There’s a green hill far away, outside a city wall. It’s where the Lord was crucified, dating to save us all. We don’t really know, we can’t really tell the pain he had to bear; but we believe it was for us that he hung and he suffered there.
Today we remember that day, outside that city wall.
Our scripture reading comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 19, beginning with verses 16 to 22.
Then Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took charge of Jesus. He went out, carrying his cross, and came to “The Place of the Skull”, as it is called. (In Hebrew it is called “Golgotha”.) There they crucified him; and they also crucified two other men, one on each side, with Jesus between them. Pilate wrote a notice and had it put on the cross. “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”, is what he wrote. Many people read it, because the place where Jesus was crucified was not far from the city. The notice was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. The chief priests said to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews’, but rather, ‘This man said, I am the King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written stays written.”
These were the final words from Pilate in the Bible. ‘What I have written stays written.’ Strong words from a weak man. But when he turned away from the priests, what was he thinking? Maybe something like this?
Let that be an end of it, he thinks. Have these people forgotten who I am? Have they forgotten that what Pontius Pilate says, goes? I’m the governor of Judea, I’m the law around here, not these pompous priests, not this pitiable Nazarene. ‘King of the Jews.’ Don’t they understand the irony? Can’t they see the sarcasm? I know he’s no king. They called for him to be cast up on a cross - is that not enough for them, that they insist on his epitaph too? What does it matter if he said it or if he didn’t? I wash my hands of the whole affair. I’d have let him go, set him free, I’ve no reason to hold him, no reason to harm him. He’s just a man - a troublesome man, it’s true, but what’s a man against an entire empire? He’s no threat to me, no threat to Rome, so why should I bear the blame for making him a martyr? Why should I risk the wrath of the rabble that regard him as their Messiah? Besides, I’ve a suspicion he’ll be of greater value to their cause dead than alive, and I’m not at all sure these high and mighty - there, sarcasm again, see? - these high and mighty holy men know just what it is they’ve done, by having me do their murky work for them. Let that be an end of it.
John 19: verses 23 and 24
After the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier. They also took the robe, which was made of one piece of woven cloth without any seams in it. The soldiers said to one another, “Let's not tear it; let's throw dice to see who will get it.” This happened in order to make the scripture come true: “They divided my clothes among themselves and gambled for my robe.” And this is what the soldiers did.
We don’t hear from the soldiers again, either. That doesn’t stop me from wondering what was going through their minds, though.
All ends well for us, one of them says. It’s been a tough day, men, tough day. That crowd was well out of order, I thought we were going to lose it for a while there. All this fuss over nothing. Still, all’s quiet now, if you don’t count the crying. I tell you what, though, when I signed up for this squad the last thing I thought I’d be doing is nailing common criminals to crosses. All in a day’s work for a Roman soldier though, eh? They say jump, we ask how high? They say crucify, we ask…, well, we don’t ask, we just follow orders, we just do what we’re told. That’s what they pay us for, and if it’s not enough, who’s to say we can’t help ourselves to a little extra? Not that these rags we’ve taken off him are anything to write home about, hardly worth divvying up between us. Still, his robe might bring in a few denarii, it’d be a shame to shred it up. Tell you what, first to throw a six gets it. If it’s me that wins it, I’m not keeping it, I’m selling it first chance I get. Aye, I know the story about the woman who just touched his robe and was healed, but I don’t believe in that stuff, miracles are for mugs, you can’t fool me. It’s just a robe, like he’s just a man. And soon he won’t even be that. All ends well for us.
Verses 25 and 29
Standing close to Jesus' cross were his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there; so he said to his mother, “He is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “She is your mother.” From that time the disciple took her to live in his home. Jesus knew that by now everything had been completed; and in order to make the scripture come true, he said, “I am thirsty.” A bowl was there, full of cheap wine; so a sponge was soaked in the wine, put on a stalk of hyssop, and lifted up to his lips.
Jesus’ mother, Mary, doesn’t speak. In scripture she rarely does. But there must have been a million things going through her mind.
It simply can’t end this way, she thinks. My son, my son, it’s too, too, much to bear. Faithful old Simeon was right when he said when he said sorrow, like a sharp sword, would break my heart. And you knew this day would come, my son, though I prayed it never would. You prepared me well, but you could never prepare me well enough. A mother, like no other, knows the pain of her child, and as I see your scars and feel your agony, tears and sorrow are all I have left to offer. It all seems so…insufficient. Could I have done more for you? Could I have persuaded Pilate and the priests of your perfection? Could I have convinced you that no life lost is worth this cost? No, I suspect not. Because you knew your life would always lead to this day, this dark day, this dreadful day. You knew, even as you walked in the temple as a boy. And I am left, bereft, with my insufficient tears. And with my fears. For although you said not to be afraid, still I am. I’m afraid that it will all come to naught, that the fight you fought will be forgotten. I’m afraid that all you did, all you said, all the promises you made, all will be in vain. If you couldn’t save yourself, or wouldn’t, how can you save us all? But still I must trust you, still I must cling to your claim that we would see sorrow but also that we would see you again, and that our hearts would be filled with gladness. It simply can’t end this way.
Our final line of scripture, verse 30, is short.
Jesus drank the wine and said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Finished, but not at an end. Complete, but not concluded. The day after tomorrow, Jesus lives.