When we heard that Jesus had been arrested, I went with Mary to help her through this terrible time. She had a premonition that something bad was going to happen. I don’t know how she knew, but I’ve learned to trust her instincts. I hope this won’t end badly, but standing outside the governor’s palace, we can hear the words, “Crucify him!” My blood runs cold, and I can feel Mary stagger and sag into my arms.
I don’t understand. How can this be happening? I have come to accept that Jesus is the Messiah. I know without a doubt that he is a good man and a great son to Mary. How can he be sentenced to death? My heart is breaking for Mary and for our family.
We follow along as Jesus makes the long climb up to Golgotha with his cross. He looks so frail and weak now! He will never make it. The Roman soldiers finally realize this and force someone from the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross. Each time Jesus falls, I hear a groan from the crowd. There are a few hecklers, but mostly it’s silent. I hold tightly onto Mary and help her make her way through the crowd. I have to stop and wipe away my tears; my sight is getting blurry, and I’m afraid I will fall myself. I focus on Jesus’ face as we walk on. The blood from his crown of thorns is running down his face, into his eyes, but he looks as if he’s someplace else, like he is ignoring the pain. I try not to weep. I want to be strong for Mary and for the others with us.
We make it to the top, and I hear a ripping noise. It is the sound of fresh scabs being torn away as they strip Jesus of his garments. Tearing away the cloth that stuck to his back reopens the whip marks, and the wounds are bleeding freely again.
Mary turns her face into my shoulder as the soldiers nail Jesus to the cross. Every time I hear the metallic clang of hammer striking nail, it pierces my own heart. Jesus makes no sound. My stomach is flopping around, and I fight the urge to vomit. The soldiers nail the other two men, and soon all three are hanging, struggling to breathe.
I can’t believe it! Some men are making fun of Jesus and egging on the crowd. We are close enough to hear Jesus say, “Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.” Jesus continues to teach and bless, even from the cross as he is dying. I feel like the pain of watching this can’t get any worse, and then it does. My heart feels like it will explode. I’m having trouble taking breaths, and my eyes are blurry again.
Then one of the condemned criminals starts in on Jesus: “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Another indignity. Jesus stays silent, but the second criminal tells the first to be quiet. I hear him say, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
What can he mean by that? Jesus will be dead soon! There will be no kingdom for him. But I hear Jesus reply, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” I want to thank this man for defending Christ; it seems to have quieted the hecklers.
It’s obvious that Jesus can’t hold on much longer. I can’t bear to watch him, and I can’t look away. All I can do is hold Mary and lend her my strength, such as it is. Suddenly we notice that it’s getting very dark, almost as if the sun has set, even though it’s around noon. People are getting nervous. Jesus continues to suffer in silence, but he is laboring to breathe now. No mother should have to watch her son suffer like this—especially someone as good, holy, and gentle as Mary.
While we wait, I continue to think about what that second criminal said to Jesus: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Is Jesus referring to a heavenly place, one that is not on earth? I seem to remember Mary saying something about this, but I am not much for Scripture and Temple learning. I’m better with my hands, more like Joseph. I still miss him! Thank God he is not here to see this; it would destroy him.
There is nothing I can do to help Jesus. My hands—the same hands that cradled him as an infant, that patted his head as a young boy—these hands are helpless to do anything now. I continue to stand with Mary and support her as best as I can.
At some point, Jesus looks at Mary, and we move close to him. He nods to his disciple John, and tells Mary, “Woman, behold your son.” And to John he says, “Behold your mother.” Still the dutiful son, even to the end.
Time seems to stand still. Suddenly, Jesus cries out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!” And then he is gone. Now my tears flow freely. Or maybe it’s rain, hard to tell. The ground seems to be shaking. I hear the centurion exclaim, “Surely, this man was the Son of God!” I look up to see him crying too.
I hear Joseph of Arimathea speak to Mary. He says we can stay with him at his place nearby. He is going to ask for Jesus’ body to be taken down so that we can prepare it for burial before the Sabbath begins. Mary decides to go with him, so we start walking with Joseph.
I am spent. I feel like a building has collapsed on top of me. I am in shock. But we need to keep moving. Beside me, Mary is quiet and teary-eyed but not hysterical. Oh, how I wish I could take this pain away from her!
I retreat into my own thoughts and before I realize it, we are back at the foot of the cross. Joseph wants to do everything himself, but I don’t argue. I just reach up and help take Jesus down. He is so light. At least we get to hold him one more time. I carry Jesus to the tomb. I won’t let anyone else help. This much I can offer for my Lord.
I am not much help preparing his body for burial. Mostly I stand near Mary in case she needs me. After the tomb is sealed, I help Mary walk back into the town, and we enter the house where we are staying. People are trying to get Mary to eat something, but she refuses. I can’t blame her; I can’t eat anything either. We sit in silence. Some of her friends are rocking back and forth in shock. Mary sits quietly. The look on her face is heartbreaking. There is great sorrow, yes, but a great strength is there too. I sit nearby and remind her that if there is anything I can do, just ask. She reaches out to take my hand for a moment, and I am comforted by that touch. I feel guilty; I am the one who’s supposed to be comforting her. I take heart and sit back to reflect.
I still can’t believe Jesus is gone. He was such a great child, and then such a wonderful teacher. I was certain that he was the Messiah; now I don’t know what to think. I replay his death in my head. He suffered almost unimaginable pain. I know I would have been screaming my head off, but he never uttered a word. I would have been cursing those who did this to me. But Jesus forgave them.
I ask Mary several times if she wants to rest, but she declines. She is almost a statue. My heart feels like the Roman guard pierced my heart when he pierced Jesus’ side.
God, what do you want us to do? Please help us, God! Be with us here, now. And help me to be strong for Mary.