Editor’s note: This is a two-part creative account of the Easter story; the second part will run on Easter, April 1.
Jesus already had seen how skittish his students became when he asked them to confront their fears and declare their allegiance to a spiritual cause.
So on this night, as he walked them toward his favorite garden retreat, he didn’t expect things to be all that different.
Yet the moment needed to be different for him. He’d been followed lately by a suffocating sorrow and now he needed to realign himself with the light that had illuminated so much of his path. He needed time to talk to his father.
He also needed his students to focus.
“Stay here,” he said, pointing toward a cluster of rocks, “and pray for me.” With that command, he stepped away from them and found his solitary place.
“Why isn’t there another way?” he reasoned, like a child begging his father to take a less difficult path down a frightful mountain trail.
“I’ll do this thing, but why must I do it alone?” The spiritual pain intensified as blood seeped through his skin pores. Clearly, it wasn’t the physical pain that he feared, but the torture of betrayal.
In between his prayers, he rose to find his disciples sleeping. He awoke them, reminding them of their promise, yet twice he returned to find them in their slumber.
Jesus wondered if he’d asked too much of them.
“Why couldn’t they get this private appeal right?” he asked his father. This wasn’t a public place, Jesus reasoned. He knew that if he’d asked his followers to reveal their allegiance to him publicly, they’d likely be crucified, the countryside was littered with crosses.
He also knew that if his students hoped to escape persecution, there was but one hope of avoiding the cross: betrayal.
And that was exactly what one man chose as he led others through the dark, carrying his torch to the garden. When he arrived, he laid a kiss on Jesus’ face. Jesus recoiled from the blow to his soul.
As the contingent of soldiers bound his hands, one of his disciples drew a sword and sliced into the face of a captor. Jesus healed the man’s wound with just a touch. Then, Jesus turned to his students to tell them that his battle would be played out in a much different setting.
Over the next three days, Jesus’ captors beat him. But nothing in the sting of the whip could match the hurt of betrayal by the most passionate of his followers.
“I don’t know this man!” Not even the rooster’s morning crows could mask the volume of Peter’s violent swearing. “Look, I tell you I’ve never even seen this fool!”
Finally, they dragged Jesus to a skullish-looking place that stunk of the dying hopes of revolutionaries, missionaries and contraries. The soldiers lifted him on his cross, high above the curious crowd. He could see everything, but only one of the many students who had sworn to follow him was with him at his death.
The crowd waited for him to die, joined by demons and darkness.They cackled for his carcass, the scent of betrayal whetting their appetite.
The sky went black. Hope evaporated. The presence, “Abba,” vanished.
“Jesus cried out to his heavenly father, whimpering at first, then building into a screaming crescendo. “You’ve betrayed me, too!”
It was over. Betrayed. Betrayed to his dying breath.
Was this what death felt like? So alone. So nothing. So destitute of hope. Was this really the end?
Reach Norris Burkes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 843-608-9715 or @chaplain.