Did the wind whistle across the top of that hillside, over two thousand years ago? Or was it eerily quiet? A few moans, cries and the haggard breathing of the dying, the only sounds interrupting the loud silence?
How many gawkers were there, looking for a cheap thrill? Gossips, wanting to get the scoop on what was going down? How many family and friends of the two thieves? Or were they all alone in their death sentences?
John was there. The disciple. Mary, His mother, as well.
Where would you be? By now, the worst anyone could have imagined, had happened. He was on the cross, barely hanging onto life. Had some of his followers, come out of the shadows of fear, to watch? To bear witness of what was coming next? What was coming next?
I’ve often thought about what I would have done had I been alive then. I have no easy answers. I hate blood and gore. I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to watch the whipping and the beating. I haven’t even been able to watch it in the movies. Would I have stood there, covering my eyes, willing the bile in my throat to stay down or would I have run away? Would the mockery and taunting, have angered me?
I may have followed the procession up the hill. That slow, agonizing parade to the top of Golgotha. The scraping of the wood against the dirt as it was moved along the road. The sound of dragging feet, too beaten and tired to move anything but painfully slow. Would I have waited as He hung there, dying? Blood and sweat dripping down his body, the planks of wood, perhaps pooling at the base? If I did, I’m not sure how close I would have gotten. I think I would have been a ways off. Afraid to get too near. Afraid of what I’d see so close up. Definitely not brave.
John was close. So was Mary. He could see them and talk to them. He didn’t have the strength to yell, so you know they were nearby. What was the difference between John and Mary and those who wouldn’t come close?
For John and Mary, I think it was about love. Mary is easy. She was his mother. Of course she didn’t just want to be close, she needed to be. It’s a mother thing. John is a little different. He was the youngest of the disciples. Probably more a young adult. Yet braver than all the rest? I think so. John and Mary saw beyond the blood and gore. They saw the man they loved. The Master they followed and the God they trusted. They didn’t understand what was happening but they knew to stay close by.
What about me? You? I wouldn’t have wanted to get too close because of the blood. I’d be afraid I’d vomit from the sights and smells. The anguish. The pain. I wouldn’t want to see that mess. Does the same hold true for me today? What about you? We can only imagine the horror. Still we don’t want to get too close. Why? Because two thousand years later, we still might not like what we see so close to the cross. No blood now. It’s.just.us. The closer you get to the cross, the closer you come to the truth. Let’s face it. It’s not always pretty. We see our mess. The broken relationships. The faults we try to cover up. The lies we hide. The sin we justify and rationalize. I t all comes out of the dark, at the foot of the cross. Because Jesus is the light of the world and He had victory over the darkness and the one who rules it. It’s not the cross that saves us but the person who died on it.
As we come close to Him, and imagine Him hanging there in our place, it will hit us hard. We see the truth of our lives and our yuck. Some of us will respond by running from it. Believe the lie that things will never change. We’ve gone too far. There is no hope. Stay in the shadows, watching. Or run as far away as we can, never looking back. (If you are running, slow yourself down and hear Him calling you by name from the cross. Take a moment and look back. Take a good long look.)
We may be immune to it. Which is the worst thing of all. At least running away, we realize we are in need of something. Cold hearts are prideful hearts. I’ve been reminded of this as I’ve been reading about growing up in the church and in a pastor’s family, in The Pastor’s Kid by Barnabas Piper. The bible becomes just words. We’ve heard the Easter story so many times, we think to ourselves, “Meh”. The love laid bare on the cross that day should rock our worlds but far too often, it doesn’t. That love story has grown cold. Our hearts are hard. (What do you have to do this Easter to light that fire again? To make it new and fresh?)
Or. We can stay close. Like John and Mary. Bravely look at our hearts. Our lives. Accept the outrageous gift of grace offered by Him, hanging there on those planks of wood. Be mesmerized by the love in His eyes for us. Believe who He says He is and then bravely, stand there and wait for what’s going to happen next. It’ll take our breath away.
The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day. Luke 24:5-7 NLT
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NLT