As If He Knew

I touch his face, and the white cloth comes back red.

I saw him last on Sunday; the whole city saw him – the quiet eye at the center of a storm. The crowds thundered, and the ground shook with their celebration, but even then, I saw a quiet sadness in his face, as if he knew…

Well, the crowds are gone, though their shouts still ring in my ears. I see their faces – the rich and poor, distorted first by joy and then rage in this week of madness. And now, there is only silence.

I lean over him in the dim room, bend to untangle thorns from his hair, and my lungs fill with the sweet, musky scent of perfume – a strange tang of beauty among all this ruin. My friend returns with fresh water, and we begin again, our fine clothes now spattered, our soft hands stained with his blood.

I shouted, too, that day. I had been watching him for months, amazed, and could not help feeling that, against all odds, things had finally come right. That all our misery had been swallowed up into something larger – something we heard was coming but had lost the power to believe.

Well, tears running down my face, I finally believed. I shouted alongside the rich and the poor, my face hijacked by a joy I could not contain.

But it had been wrong after all, and here we are.

He looks ten years older than yesterday, withered and wrung. His hands frozen in a cramp of agony, flesh torn from his back. The five gaping holes where life drained out.

I watched it all. I made myself watch – the gut-wrenching cruelty, the pain flashing across his face. But somehow, they did not win. He did not break. He did not even seem surprised. Every humiliation and misery their mean little minds could think of. Every dirty little insult our own people could spit at him… He took it all and gasped, “Forgive them.”

When it was finally over, I hurried to the governor’s mansion, no longer caring what the other rulers would think. Pilate gave me an evil look and snarled, “So, you’re one of them. Well, you got your wish. Now, what do you want?” His face changed when I told him.

I took his written order to the centurion at the cross. He looked up to the body, then back at me.

“You were his friend?” he asked, with a strange expression.

“Yes,” I stammered, thinking how little I deserved that title.

He called for a ladder and helped me take him from the cross, staring for a moment into Jesus’ face and lowering him to me with surprising tenderness.

It struck me again how Jesus changed us. All of us. Some hated him, and some loved, and some were just confused, but we all changed in one way or another.

Well, his wounds are clean now, and the cool, stone tomb smells of spice and fresh linen. Nicodemus leans over him one last time, whispers, “I’m sorry”, and a tear splashes on the gentle, wounded face.

What was it John called him? The lamb of God… He was gentle, yes, but I met a few of the people Jesus healed. I tasted bread and fish he pulled from thin air. I talked to Lazarus, who he raised from the dead. I held Jairus’ sweet daughter in my own arms. I felt the earth shake when he suffered, and I watched the sky go black.

This was no lamb. No force on earth could bind him, not all of Rome’s legions. And yet he was bound. And he bled. And he lies here, dead.

The blood of lambs is taken, but this man’s blood was given, and an urgent thought stirs in me. A memory. A question. The lamb of God, the old book predicted, “pierced for our rebellion and crushed for our sins… whipped so we could be healed.”

And suddenly, I see it. We celebrated the right man for the wrong reason. This – this! – is what it means to be Messiah: The rightful king, broken for us. This was our punishment, not his – laid on him, our hero, who, even in his agony, forgave us.

We stumble out, exhausted and grieving, just as temple guards arrive with orders to seal the tomb. With a flourish of authority and style, they shoo us away and roll a great stone in front of the door, forgetting that God is on the other side.

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Surely he took up our pain

and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,

stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed.

-Isaiah 53: 4-5

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.

-Luke 23:50-54

He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.

-John 19:39

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