When Jesus was finally brought out again, Mary shuddered. He was red. His entire body was covered in blood. His flesh was torn to shreds. His face, shoulders, arms and legs bore the marks of a brutal lashing. The soldiers kicked him down the steps of the porch, laughing at his uncoordinated efforts to stand again.
John rushed to him and helped him stand. “Hey, you!” a soldier yelled, cracking a whip toward John. “Back up. He can stand on his own. Otherwise, how might he carry this?” The soldier heaved a cross toward Jesus. It barely missed his head, but landed hard near his feet. The women gasped.
The soldiers hoisted the cross across Jesus’ ragged flesh. He slowly turned to find comfort in carrying it, and Mary saw his back. The skin no longer covered his muscles and bone. She clenched her teeth to keep from crying out as she watched the rough wood dig into the open wound. “Agh!” Jesus groaned. Fresh tears ran down Mary’s cheeks. Her heart was torn at the sight of him. Her savior. In such excruciating pain.
Jesus staggered slowly and with much effort, in the direction the soldiers prodded him. Two other men were walking ahead of him, carrying similar crosses. The whip cracked continuously overhead, often finding a sliver of unadulterated flesh and mutilating it. More often biting into muscle and cutting bone. Jesus was so weak. How he continued to walk, Mary could not fathom. Finally, he began to falter. His mother broke away and ran to him. “My son,” she whispered desperately. Jesus met her eyes with silent pleas before John stooped and pulled her away from him.
A soldier ran back and kicked Jesus forcefully. He fell sideways, falling across his cross. With no energy left to get up or even cry out, Jesus laid there, panting helplessly. “You!” the soldier yelled, pointing at a man among the spectators lining the road. The man hesitantly stepped forward. The soldier commanded, “Pick him up, and his cross. You will help him.” The stranger bent down and gently lifted a languishing Jesus back to his feet. Soon, the man was covered in Jesus’ blood.
Picking up the cross, he placed one side of it carefully on Jesus’ shoulders, then maneuvered himself under the other side until the weight of it rested more on him than on Christ. Limping slowly, they did their best to catch up to the other prisoners and escape the cracking whip.
Mary could here Jesus breathing with great effort as the procession left the city and wound its way up a nearby hill called Golgotha. While most of the horde chattered in hysterical jubilation, John and the women walked somberly under a mantle of misery and despair. They wept. They clung to each other, watching helplessly as the soldiers laid Jesus upon his cross.
Mary’s nails bit into her hands as the soldier’s mercilessly drove thick spikes into the heels of Jesus’ hands. His mother choked on her anguish as they placed his feet on a block of wood and hammered the three into the base of the cross. Jesus groaned in unutterable torment. The soldiers carelessly fitted the cross into the ground and raised it to hover over their heads.
A cheer went up as Jesus was hoisted into the air. He was unrecognizable even to those who knew him. His body was mangled and his flesh so torn, if they had not been with him from the beginning, they would none have known it was he on the cross. “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing,” Jesus sputtered, with much obvious exertion.
Mary fastened her eyes to him, watching every painful, labored breath he took. Several times, he attempted to cough, then jolted from the pain it caused him. The soldiers jeered and mocked him. Standing with their arms crossed haughtily, the Pharisees gave their approval to the excruciation.
Caiaphas mocked loudly, “He said he was the son of God. Humph! Let him come down now and save himself!” The crowd chuckled.
“He said he would rebuild the temple in three days? That would be a miracle!” The people howled at the absurdity.
“He can’t even get himself off the cross. Miracle worker, come down from there now!”
Caiaphas continued mocking Jesus, to the delight of those around him. Mary kept her eyes on Christ. Several of the other women surrounded his mother, their voices raised in a discordant wail. They were sincerely agonized over his death. Mary pressed her hand over her mouth to hold in the guttural cries that expressed her anguish. Her eyes were riveted to his pain.
“Oh! Oh! Perhaps in a couple days he can raise himself from the dead!” Caiaphas sneered.
The throng roared. The mocking and jeering went on and on. The soldiers bartered for his garments, occasionally giving attention to the dying men, occasionally to the rowdy crew. Several agonizing hours passes this way. Suddenly, the sky went black and a gentle breeze began to blow. Panic swept through everyone.
“What is happening?” “Darkness in the middle of the day?”
The centurion hurried to Jesus with a wet sponge. With obvious effort, Jesus turned his head away and refused to drink it. Someone lit a torch, and by that light, Mary watched the face of her savior contorted by the suffering of death. She watched his chest rise and fall haphazardly. She could hear his teeth grinding amid the rough staccato of his breathing. She breathed deeply for him, wishing she could help him. She wrapped her purple shawl tighter as the wind grew colder from the darkness. Her eyes never left the flickering figure of Jesus.
Several agonizing hours passed before his voice rang out. “Eloi, eloi! Lema sabachthani!” Mary’s blood ran cold. Her spirit had heard his heart-cry. My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” She watched Jesus struggle for one last breath. In a barely audible voice he declared, “It … is … finished,” then he hung limp. At last, his agony was past.
*excerpt from Redemption’s Road