Two of the soldiers took Jesus by the arms and pushed him down on the cross that had been prepared. His body arched as the torn flesh of his back scraped against the rough wood. The men didn’t say anything as they tied his arms and legs to hold him in place. They were just doing their job.

            And then they did it. They nailed Him to the cross. Two men held him down while the third hammered the rough spikes through his wrists and ankles. Up to now, Jesus had remained silent. Through the beatings and humiliation, he hadn’t said a word. He hadn’t begged or pleaded. He hadn’t cursed those who hurt him. But now he screamed, oh how he screamed.

            His cross was tilted up and dropped into the hole between the two crosses that already held their victims.

            Most of the soldiers left, just leaving those necessary to prevent anyone from interfering with the executions.

Those who had been watching moved closer. I saw some of the religious leaders and their followers. They obviously wanted to make sure that Pilate would keep his word. But apparently, Jesus’ death wasn’t enough because they continued to mock him, “You’ve saved others. Why don’t you save yourself?” And “where’s your father now?

            But soon, they became bored and drifted away, just leaving a small group gathered around at the foot of the cross.

Looking closer, I realized that it was Jesus’ mother and aunt, the two Marys and John. I started toward them but stopped. How would I explain what I did? What I said? And what if Jesus saw me? How could he ever forgive me?

            Instead, I moved to a nearby tree, lowered myself to the ground, and settled in with my back against the trunk. I had denied him before, and I wasn’t going to leave him now. Even if he didn’t know I was there, I knew.

            It took Jesus six hours to die. Six agonizing hours. Six hours hanging there, pushing himself up against the spikes just to breathe. At one point, I saw Jesus speak to one of the men hanging with him, the older of the two. I couldn’t hear their words, but it seemed as if the man had smiled. What would ever possess a crucified man to smile?

            Later I watched as he spoke to the group huddled beneath him. I don’t know what was said, but his mother collapsed into the arms of John.

            The sky was getting darker, and by noontime, the cloud cover was the darkest I’d ever seen it. It was as dark as early evening, and then I noticed the silence. The wind had stopped, and there were no birds singing. Even the Romans guarding the crosses had given up on their banter.

            By mid-afternoon, it was over. I saw Jesus pull himself up, and his final words, “It is finished,” broke the silence.

            The centurion in charge nodded to one of his men, who stepped forward and drove his spear into Jesus’ side. These men had been charged with killing Jesus, and they weren’t taking any chances. When they had removed his body from the cross and laid it on the ground, his mother clung to it, refusing to let the Romans take it away. Afraid of how it would be defiled. Too often, those who had been crucified ended up being thrown in the fires that consumed the city’s trash.

            A man I only knew as Joseph arrived on the scene and took things in hand. I recognized him as one of the regulars who showed up when Jesus was teaching. He had apparently reached some agreement with the authorities because he was allowed to wrap Jesus in a burial shroud. He had come prepared and had several men with him carry Jesus’ body away. The two Marys followed behind them, while John led Jesus’ mother and aunt in the opposite direction. And through it all, nobody noticed me.

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