Cross, Day 8
The crowd around me jeered and chanted as the bleeding convict before us struggled to carry the heavy wooden cross. I couldn’t quite glimpse him, but based on the fury and fear contorting the faces nearest him… I was pretty sure I didn’t want to. He must have stumbled, because the volume increased to a roar as bodies surged toward him with intensity.
My own pulse quickened as I ushered my sons ahead of me away from the scene.
“Hurry, boys, hurry,” I urged.
“You!” A soldier’s gruff voice cut through the air like a scythe. Suddenly, a heavy hand landed on my shoulder forcing me to stop. My heart dropped. I stood still for a moment, then turned to face the armor-clad guard. I met his stern gaze with silence.
“You will carry his cross.”
His words forced their way out and hung in the air between us like a dare.
I considered arguing with him, but seeing the tension of the soldier’s face, I could see nothing good would come of it. I took a slow breath and nodded, then turned to face my sons. Confusion and worry shone through pale faces and wide eyes. I tried to assure them with a smile as I shrugged my pack off and handed it to them, then pulled them in for a quick hug.
“Follow along, but stay back,” I whispered. “I don’t want you in the thick of this.” They nodded, dark eyes trained on my own, but their concern was evident.
“This way,” barked the solder.
The crowd parted as he turned, and I followed him the fifteen or twenty paces back to the prisoner. As we drew closer, I could see that blood had dripped from the cuts on his face and back, staining his brightly colored robe. The crimson fluid trickled down and mixed with the dirt on the street where he knelt.
I stepped closer, bending down to grasp the heavy wood beam. As I lifted the cross from his shoulder and transferred it to my own, he stumbled at the sudden release of weight and clutched my shoulder to steady himself. At the touch of his hand, heat roared down my arm and across my back. Startled, I thought, this man has power!
For the first time, I sought a glimpse of his face. He straightened and as his gaze met mine, I finally saw him. The noise and chaos around us fading, and I found myself transfixed.
Long, dark hair framed a kind, broad face. His jaw was firm, but not overpowering. A straight nose pointed to a full mouth. The blood dripping down his face did nothing to detract from the piercing, intellectual eyes which peered kindly at me. Captivated, I noticed their color was more amber than brown, more golden than green.
Gentle, I thought. His eyes are gentle.
He wasn’t smiling, but I knew instinctively that when he did, it would be with his whole being. Tanned skin spoke of days, weeks, and months spent outdoors. The calloused rough hand resting on my shoulder made me wonder if he’d ever been a carpenter.
“This man is innocent!”, my spirit cried out.
My eyes filled inexplicably with tears, and I opened my mouth to say something to him, anything. But the words wouldn’t come.
“Simon, it’s alright,” he strained, squeezing my shoulder gently.
My eyes widened. His voice was like the sound of rushing waters, and I gulped back the sob suddenly threatening to cross my lips. I didn’t even question how he knew my name, because I had known from that first touch he knew me.
Not just my name, but who I was.
My history, my present, my future.
My thoughts, my secrets, my sin.
He knows me.
My mind roared. How does he know me?! And what does that mean, innocent?
There is no such thing! That is why we bring a sacrifice. That’s why we follow our traditions, why our priests intercede for us. It is our way! It is THE way! It’s why I’m here now, for Passover.
The sacrifice is required as payment for our sin.
His gaze lingered, his eyes filling with compassion as he watched a single tear escape down my cheek. He nodded once, then turned and began to walk away.
Wait. Compassion? For me? My thoughts whirled and crashed against one another in a frenzy. As he limps the road to his own execution…? Nothing made sense. And yet, he IS innocent.
I shook my head to clear it.
Who IS this man? And why must he be crucified, when he is innocent? My mind continued to turn as I wondered. I blinked furiously to hide the tears and hefted the heavy cross up higher on my shoulder. Then, with my thoughts still racing, I followed him.
I studied the way he moved quietly through the crowd. His body, bleeding and bruised, moved with a stately grace that conveyed complete calm, in stark contradiction to the chaos surrounding him. Men and women crowded in, shouting insults with raised fists. Some even spit at him. Others shoved and pushed struggling for a clear view.
Through the din, the sound of a woman crying caught my attention, and I turned to glance back. She covered her mouth to stifle a sob, and I watched as another woman put an arm around the first. Several others walked with them, also weeping. Some cried silently, while others wailed and clutched trembling hands together.
The prisoner stopped suddenly, and turned to address them.
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children.
Look, the days are coming when they will say,
‘Blessed are the women without children, the wombs that never bore,
and the breasts that never nursed!’
Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’
For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
His words rang with authority I’d never known, and again I was struck by the almost musical quality his voice carried. The women behind me fell silent as he turned away, and I felt a trickle of sweat drip down my back. We trudged up the final hill, and my own labored breathing filled my ears. Finally, the guard held up a hand, and our grim procession halted.
“There!” the soldier gestured.
My stomach dropped.
Twin crosses protruded from the earth into the sky on either side of the space where he pointed, and as I squinted I realized I could see the limp form of a man hanging on each.
The lump in my throat grew bigger still, and my gaze returned to the prisoner in front of me.
He nodded, and my knees buckled.
Everything within rebelled at the thought of what would surely happen to the man with the voice.
NO, my heart thrummed tautly. HE IS INNOCENT!
As if they possessed a life of their own, my hands reached up and grasped the heavy, wooden cross from my shoulder, dropping it to the ground. As the weight was lifted from my body, I felt a different sort of heaviness filling my chest.
The soldier shoved me and I stumbled backwards.
Four slender arms grasped my waist and legs, and as my sons clung to me, the tears began to fall. I pulled brown, curly-haired heads close, burying their faces in my chest. Sobs finally tore their way out of my throat as my ears registered the sound of two mallets hitting their mark and thick nails pierced flesh and wood. Unable to tear my eyes from the man with the voice, I watched the first soldier hold the man’s feet together as another soldier began to hammer a third nail.
And still, he didn’t beg. WHY DIDN’T HE BEG?
And still, he didn’t stop them. WHY DIDN’T HE STOP THEM?
A woman’s shrill wail cut through the air as the mallet pounded one final time, and the soldiers lifted the cross, sliding it in the waiting hole. I swiped my forearm over my face to clear the tears, willing myself to stand as I forcibly pulled my boys away from the grim scene. Their tear-filled eyes searched my own in shock, and though I searched for comforting words, I found none.
I glanced back over my shoulder one last time and my gaze fell on two perfect feet, pinned to rough wood.
For some reason, I could think of nothing but the way his calloused hand felt on my shoulder.
The sound of his voice.
The warmth in his gaze.
I wept, and pressed forward. “Hurry, boys, hurry.”
Share your thoughts from today’s Journey Study!
Can we pray for you?
Sign up to receive every Journey Study!
Join our Facebook Community!