What Was It Like?
What was it like for the disciples to wake up on Friday* morning? Saturday morning? What did they do all day? What did they think? What conversation did they have among themselves? Did some of them seek escape from sorrow in sleep? Did any venture out to hunt for Judas? The turncoat! Would he rat them out, too? What was it like for those sixty hours of pitch black soul-darkness? They seem to have holed up together behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20:19). They were the most prominent followers of a man executed for state treason, after all. Would they, too, be hunted down and executed? How would they elude the authorities? Surely some of them began wondering about everything they had come to believe over the last few years. Had they been mistaken somehow? Had he? And even if they survived this ordeal, what would they do with the rest of their lives? What could possibly reverse the utter triumph of evil they had just witnessed? They had begun the holy week with such high expectations! Had they been duped by their own error of judgment, their own ignorance of Scripture? What were they missing? How could they have been so credulous? But the things he said! The things he did! After all they’d heard and seen, this simply made no sense! For two whole days (and three whole nights) they lingered in the blackest blackness of despair, locked up in their own Doubting Castle. (Here’s a thought worth pondering: Jesus knew they would, and told them ahead of time, and assured them that it would pass, John 16:20.) Nothing slows down time to a crawl like grief, waiting for something to change on the dark horizon of the soul’s night, when you cannot even imagine what that change could possibly be. Surely these were the longest two days of their lives.
O all ye who pass by, behold and see;
Man stole the fruit, but I must climb the tree;
The tree of life to all, but only me:
Was ever grief like mine? **
What was it like for the religious leaders to wake up on Friday? Saturday? Victory at last! “Finally we shut up that insolent, blaspheming, self-appointed rabbi for good! After all his arrogant insults and ‘woes’ against us! His ‘woes’ be upon his own head now!” “And that rabble of followers, did you see the look on their faces? Ignorant fishermen! Uneducated commoners and sinners! Tax collectors even!” “Speaking of which, shouldn’t we do something about them?” “Oh, we will. Annas has already authorized it. Today and tomorrow, do we all holy rites. Then, come the first day of the week, we hunt them down like rabbits cowering in their little hole.” “I heard that one of them already denied him openly! They’ll scatter like bugs in the sunlight to save their skins. First of the week, we’ll squash this dangerous conspiracy for good, and do God service!”
The Princes of my people make a head
Against their Maker: they do wish me dead,
Who cannot wish, except I give them bread:
Was ever grief like mine?
But what was it like for Jesus those three hours on the cross? To gasp in agony the thin air of an atmosphere utterly bereft of God? Man has often forsaken God, yet still he breathes and sleeps and eats, lives and moves and has his being from God, enjoys the same sun and rain as the just. No living man ever yet existed in a world without God, till those three hours on the cross. It would be one thing for any sinner of us to be abandoned by God. But for the only one who has ever known for countless years the full pleasure of the unchanging, unending, enveloping presence of God, the unceasing fellowship of the Father, to have the very oxygen of that existence sucked out of the atmosphere . . . what was that like? To go from omni-pleasure to wrath, from full presence to not mere absence but willful abandonment. Was ever grief like his?
But, O my God, my God! Why leav’st thou me,
The son in whom thou dost delight to be?
My God, my God – – – – –
Was ever grief like mine?
Whatever it was like, we need never know and (if we know him) will never know. That was, after all, the whole point of it.
* Based primarily on Mt 12:40, I am a convinced Thursday crucifixionist until I see any remotely convincing evidence otherwise besides tradition. Call me a Thomas, if you want.
** Excerpts taken from George Herbert, “The Sacrifice.“