The sun crawled through a crease in the clouds to peek at a somber planet. Agony was painted all over the dashed hopes of the people who lived there. Hadn't it been just a week before when children shouted his praises and people paved the route for his celebrated his arrival in Jerusalem with palm branches and even their own garments? How could it all go wrong so quickly? Now that their leader had been executed, their dreams for a better world lay in ashes. Where would they turn? Who would understand their feelings?
There was Mary, Jesus' mother. She could vividly remember the moment the angel had visited her more than 30 years earlier to tell her she'd give birth to the one who'd revolutionize the world, bring healing to all, and release from oppression. He would save his people from their sins.
She'd watched him grow up and followed him after he began his ministry. She remembered his faithfulness in the carpenter's shop - the joy of mastering a straight cut.
She recalled that Passover trip to Jerusalem when they'd been separated. Thinking that he was with family members elsewhere in the caravan, she and Joseph had kept going.
Then came the anxious moment when they found that he was not with relatives. Hastily, they'd returned to Jerusalem, where they found Jesus talking with the leading rabbis. What an impression he'd made on them! And then Jesus' cryptic statement to Mary and Joseph: "Don't you know that I need to get on with my Father's business?"
At Cana, at Mary's insistence, he'd saved the day. What might have been the flop of the century became the wedding no one could forget as Jesus miraculously turned water into wine. Why had she had such confidence in him? Because she knew he was full if compassion. She'd seen him as a youngster absorb all kinds of abuse without retaliation. She'd seen him express compassion when others were rejected. She'd sensed his deep love for people and knew he wouldn't sit by when he could do something to keep the happiest time in a young couple's lives from becoming their worst embarrassment.
Mary was doubtless present when Jesus healed the sick, preached in his hometown synagogue, and confronted the evils of his time. Ever popular among the people, the religious leaders loathed him. How could she understand such hatred for one who was so pure, so kind, so helpful? Now they'd achieved their objective: eliminating Jesus. Like every other parent, her heart was wounded for her child. Aren't children supposed to bury their parents---not the other way around? But there he was -bleeding profusely, suffering from one of the most cruel forms of execution ever invented by men. Whipped senseless by a Roman flagrum, spikes were driven through his flesh, and the weight of his body hanging from the cross was causing him to suffocate to death. It was the darkest of days.
Then there was Peter. Not long ago he'd proudlysworn that he'd never abandon Jesus. Wasn't it Jesus who'd suggested that the human ‘spirit is willing but the flesh is weak"? Peter's concern for Jesus had led him and fellow disciple John to the temple court. But John had disappeared, and now Peter was alone, abandoned and afraid. Hours before this,he'd witnessed the temple guard drag Jesus away to be tried before a kangaroo court. He held little hope that he'd ever see his master again.
His thoughts drifted back to cherished memories and those signs of Jesus' messianic identity.
There was the time early on when Jesus had healed Peter's mother-in-law. There was that surreal experience on the mountain with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah when he caught a vision of Christ's glory.
There was the physics-defying moment when he, himself, had walked with Jesus on the water.
Suddenly his memories were rudely interrupted by an accusation: "Oh, you're one of them. You're one of those Jesus guys."
Caught off guard, he vehemently denied it. He shifted away, trying to lose himself in the crowd gathered near the fire and returned to his memories.
He recalled the day his brother Andrew had introduced him to Jesus; when Andrew brought the boy to Jesus and Jesus had multiplied his lunch to feed thousands of people; the days spent sailing the sea of Galilee, especially when Jesus had restored the demonic men and cast their evil spirits into the herd of pigs.
So many memories had flooded his mind. Now where was the promise and the hope?
Now another servant girl dragged him back into the present. "You're one of those Jesus people."
His own life was at stake and he had to prove her wrong so he resorted to cursing. Certainly that would prove that he was not one of those "Jesus people."
He moved away, to lose himself in the crowd. His accent, however, betrayed him. "You're not from around here. Well, of course - you're from Galilee - the place where this Jesus comes from. You're one of his."
"No, I'm not," Peter had retorted. And to prove his point, he released an outburst of profanity that would have made a sailor blush.
Then, as Jesus had predicted, the rooster crowed and suddenly Peter remembered his vain profession of loyalty, and Peter stood face to face with the darkness of his own soul. He went out, and wept bitterly.
And what of Mary Magdalene? She had known men before - but not like this man. Mary had been the wild child. Who could explain what had gone wrong? She had a loving family. Well, perhaps her sister was a bit overbearing about housekeeping, but on balance, she had it "pretty good." Somehow she'd strayed from the fold, became enamored with the fast lane, and found a convenient way to finance the whole scene.
Oh she had considerable wealth, judging from the expensive ointment she'd purchased for anointing Jesus' feet. That represented a lot of sleepovers.
True, there was a price to pay for such a lifestyle. She wasn't exactly on the list of high and polite society. Women disdained her. Men used her. That takes an emotional toll upon a person.
Then she'd met Jesus. Here was a different sort of man. Here was a person who valued her as a human being, not as a mere sex object.
He was different, spiritually speaking. While not condoning her conduct, he hadn't rejected her either.
She had sensed that he saw unlimited potential for good in her. Here was a person who wouldn't hold her past against her. Perhaps he was the only one in the world who really cared.
But now, the best thing that had ever happened to her was violently wrenched from her grasp, nailed to a splintered wooden cross, spat upon, cursed, speared in the side and left to die between two common criminals.
As the blood flowed from Jesus' side so did the hope flow from her tortured soul.
John, the youngest and perhaps dearest of Christ's disciples, was there too.
How could he know that only he, among all the disciples, would not share a fate similar to that which Jesus Christ now suffered?
He had been with Jesus from the beginning. He became a part of Jesus' inner circle of three. He would become the master storyteller, the one who would paint Christ's portrait for the world. Among the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - his would be unique.
John must have had a photographic memory as well as an artist's palette. He alone, among the four writers, would preserve the one-on-one encounters of Jesus, such as the outcast woman he met at the Samaritan well; the secret nighttime rendezvous with the aristocratic Nicodemus, and the woman who'd been caught in the very act of adultery and dragged into Jesus presence to be stoned because the Law of Moses demanded it . Through each vignette, John would deepen his reader's understanding of what divine grace really means.
But now, John quietly agonized about the fate of his dearest friend, mentor, and teacher.
How could John go on without him? Here was the man who had tamed his temper, given him patience, and opened his own heart to God's transforming grace. John could hardly envision a future without him.
He agonized over his own weakness. Why had he fallen asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane when his dearest friend needed him the most? Why, in spite of this unforgiveable lapse, has Jesus entrusted to John the care of Jesus own dear mother? And now that he was gone, crucified by the hated Romans at the behest of the corrupt religious establishment, where would John find peace and strength? Who would quench the thirst of his parched soul?
That was Friday. That was Saturday. How could they have known that Sunday would change everything? Who would dare to believe that in a few hours, the grave would be vanquished and the stranglehold of sin would be broken?
Caiaphas, that cagey high priest, wasn't ready for that. He'd do anything to ensure it never happened. He convinced Pontius Pilate to dispatch a Roman guard to secure the tomb. Profane soldiers surrounded the place where Jesus lay - a cold, damp, repository of death. Then the earth began to quiver and shake. Light flashed from inside the tomb. A heavenly being descended, illuminated the tragic scene, and scattered the cowardly forces of evil. The tomb erupted with life as Jesus emerged eternal victor over humanity's greatest foe: Death!
He's alive! He's alive! Hope lives through him and captivates human hearts. No aspiration is beyond reach. Every obstacle can now be hurdled. No dream need disappear unfulfilled. No vision need perish in the uncertainties of life. No sin is beyond forgiveness. No life is beyond hope. One moment in history sets us free. He's alive! He's alive! He's alive!
Dan Solis is an associate pastor on staff at The Village Church in College Place, Washington and a host of Blue Mountain Television's community affairs program Valley Viewpoint. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at email@example.com.