Daily Devotional for Monday, March 22, 2021 from Rev. Eric Douglass
The Monday meditations now focus on the events leading up to Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and death
Meditations for Easter: The Revelation
Matthew 27:45-54: From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”… Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split…Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Arelius looked down at the brown leather of the boots, avoiding eye contact with his superior. The leather was supple from long marches, scuffed and scraped, yet they remained things of beauty to him. They were essential equipment, and so he kept them in top shape. Looking back up, he nodded in affirmation of his new orders: “I live to serve Rome.” Saluting and spinning around sharply, he left the office and started the walk to Pilate’s palace. He had been placed on crucifixion duty, and he hated it. Crucifixions were necessary, in order to maintain order in these provinces, for the provinces were always near revolt. The people were savages, and they would just as soon put a knife in your back as salute you. But still, he hated this part of his job.
Arriving at the soldier’s quarters, he stowed his equipment and went to Pilate for directions. Of course, there was a crucifixion already in progress. He saluted again, sighed, and began yet another march, this time to ‘the hill’—which most knew by its common name: ‘Golgotha.’ He arrived just after the long vertical stakes had been inserted into their holes, and helped shovel dirt into the edges, keeping the poles upright.
Standing up, he was dirty, sweaty, and in an overall foul mood. He looked up at the criminals. They were bloody and bruised from the pre-crucifixion treatment that all criminals received. This was the thing he hated most: the beating, spitting, mocking, and whipping of the prisoners. It was brutal work, where soldiers took out their aggression against the ‘worthless populace.’ Arelius sighed, and tried to make out the faces above him. According to his notes, all three were guilty of sedition and treason: the center prisoner for fomenting a rebellion where he would be ‘the king of the Jews,’ and those at the side for killing a collaborator of Rome.
He turned his head towards a group of chief priests and city elders, who were stridently marching up the hill. It was clear, from the look on their faces, that they were angry…perhaps even enraged. This seemed odd, as most of the religious people in this godforsaken country felt some support for a person standing up to Rome. Indeed, they didn’t even look at the prisoners on the sides, but went straight to this Jesus…and began harassing him.
“If you are the son of God, come down from the cross!”
Whoa…no one said anything about this! If he thought that he was some kind of God, then he was a harmless, crazy, old wanderer…he didn’t deserve this. Perhaps the occasional beating, to keep him from hurting anyone, but nothing more. So, Arelius—disregarding the usual protocols of staying away from the locals—strode over to the chief priests, and asked about the charges against him.
The shortest of them, a squat man with a sour temperament, turned to respond, using the clipped tone of irritation: “This man, this ignorant vagabond, this blasphemer said that he was God’s son…disgusting, presumptuous, arrogant. Then he disrespected our most sacred laws…given to us by God! Unforgiveable.”
“Why would he break Jewish law? He is a Jew, isn’t he?”
The man started to turn purple in his rage: “Ask him,” was all he could sputter, before spitting at the cross. “He claimed to be a god…but look at him now!”
Arelius took a step backwards…never had he encountered such rage, such hatred. Clearly, this Jesus was not just some crazy person. No one gets this worked up over a crazy man. Now he began to worry, as the chief priests—political animals to the core—considered this man a genuine threat. So, who was this Jesus? He looked for someone else to ask, and his eyes alighted upon a small group of women clustered around the cross.
“Excuse me, ladies. But can you tell me about this man…what he was like?”
One named Mary looked up at me, tears in her eyes: “He taught me to love my neighbors, even the ones who gossip about me.” The second, also named Mary, added: “He helped the sick, healing them without cost.” The third, also name Mary—how confusing is this—said: “He was my best friend, and showed me an underserved kindness.”
Of course, this is not the way people talk about the leader of a rebellion! And it is certainly not the kind of thing that would threaten a chief priest. Something smelled wrong about this whole situation. But, finding no one else to ask, I retreated back to the shadow of a small locust tree.
That’s when the strange things started to happen…and I mean really strange. First, the sun stopped shinning! It was late afternoon, but still the middle of the day. I had heard of things called eclipses, where the gods stopped the light from the sun, but these only lasted a few minutes. So I waited…and waited…but the sun did not return. An hour went by and still no sun. Now, everyone knows that the gods only stop the light when something terrible has happened…an omen warning that the gods are angry. And clearly, they were very angry over the death of this man!
Out of the side of my eye, I saw the chief priests scurrying back down the hill, to hide in whatever hole they had emerged from. Despite this omen, I smiled to see them hiding from whatever atrocity they had committed.
Another hour went by, and everyone stayed silent under the preternatural darkness. Then a lone cry arose in the darkness…coming from the center cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” The despair in this voice was palpable. They were his last words. Suddenly, all these pieces began to fit together: a man who taught love and mercy, feared by the chief priests and killed out of envy, yet honored by God by the closing of the lights of heaven. In all of this darkness and misery, I believe that I saw the grief of God…surely, this man was the son of God.
The land shook in a violent earthquake, knocking all of us to the ground. Yet another sign from God, now at the death of the godly man. And then the sun suddenly came forth, full in its blazing, like the morning sun at its rising. A new day was dawning—that was surely the meaning—but, I wondered, what kind of new age would it bring? What happens when you kill the son of God? I would have to hope—desperately hope—that it would still be a day of mercy.
And so I did the only thing that I could do: I prayed to the son of God.
We know that you are a God of love,
and that you care for us.
We know that you are a just God,
and prize fairness.
We treated your son with neither love or fairness,
and yet you still care for us.
You treat us as prodigal sons and daughters,
Who after a long season of turning against you
have finally returned home.
You run out to greet us.
And we are profoundly grateful.