The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved: Part 5
The Sanhedrin demanded that the Romans remove the bodies from the cross before the Sabbath. After breaking the legs of the two criminals, they came to Jesus, but realized he was already dead. In what struck me as a needless and vindictive act, one of the soldiers instead pierced his side with a lance. Out flowed a stream of blood and water.
I watched from a distance, my eyes widening in astonishment. Jesus seemed to be sending a message to me even in death, though I didn’t have the faintest idea what that might be. His words from the Passover meal echoed through my head: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
He had laid down his life and given his all, not even withholding his last drop of blood, but I still didn’t understand why this had to happen. All I understood was a passionate longing to rest my head on his shoulder once again, like I had done at the table that night.
One of Jesus’secret disciples, Joseph of Arimathea, somehow claimed the body from Pilate. After removing him from the cross, Joseph laid his limp, lifeless form in his mother’s arms. She caressed him tenderly, her tears flowing down and mixing with his blood, without speaking a word.
Joseph also oversaw burial preparation, wrapping the body in cloths and spices supplied by Nicodemus, and laying it to rest in an empty tomb in a nearby garden. The process was quick and somber due to the rapidly approaching Sabbath. I watched while soldiers rolled an enormous rock across the entrance, which lent a sense of reality to the nightmare and seemed to seal his fate irrevocably.
In a daze, I escorted Mary back to our temporary home, the house with the upper room, but couldn’t bear to enter it. Hoping she would be safe there until I was capable of making permanent arrangements, I wandered back to the garden and found a secluded corner where I could be both near Jesus and as far from Golgotha as possible. I collapsed and sobbed, no longer trying to hold it back, eventually succumbing to exhaustion and falling into a grief-stricken sleep.
All Sabbath day I stayed there, still reluctant to go back and look for my brother and the other disciples. I relived the events of the past two days, pondering them in my mind and struggling to make sense of it all.Dear God, how am I going to live from now on? Please help me understand . . .
Sometime during the night, I heard my name whispered in the darkness. “John? What are you doing here?”
“Peter?” I couldn’t believe my ears. “Is that you?”
It was indeed. He crawled over to me. “Where have you been?” I asked.
He sighed. “Out living in a nightmare and hating myself. The Lord was right – I just wouldn’t listen. And now I’ve denied Him . . . I don’t know what to do.”
“Neither do I. It’s all over now, Peter.” My voice cracked. “I saw everything.”
He paused for a moment. “At least you didn’t abandon him. Where are the others?”
“Maybe in the upper room, but I don’t know for sure. I haven’t seen anyone.”
“I can’t face them just yet . . . Will you wait here with me.”
“Of course,” I said. I was too weary to blame Peter for anything when I had come a hair’s breadth from despair myself. Like him, I just wanted to escape the rest of the world.
We both fell asleep without another word.
From the depths of my fitful slumber, I felt someone shaking my shoulder, trying to rouse me back to consciousness whether I liked it or not. “John! Peter! Please, wake up, quickly!”
I sat up with a jerk, trying to focus on the woman standing in front of me. I had to blink several times before I recognized Mary Magdalene, her face pale, her eyes wide with panic. “He’s gone!”
“What?!” I sprang to my feet.
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,” she sobbed, “and we don’t know where they put him!”
My mind whirled.“Peter, come quickly,” I snapped, taking off running.
We sprinted madly across the garden. Peter panted behind me, but I soon drew ahead of him. I always had been faster than him. I finally stopped, heart pounding, and collapsed in a heap in front of the entrance. The giant tombstone was indeed gone. What could have happened? My excitement drained away, and I was suddenly stricken with apprehension.
Peter finally arrived, his brow furrowed in confusion. “Go on,” I said, motioning with my hand. “You first.”
He vanished into the gloom. I waited impatiently. After an inordinate amount of time,he came bounding back out and stopped short, looking at me with profound disbelief. “John, I . . . I don’t believe it . . . “
Not waiting to hear any more, I stumbled in myself. After about three steps, I hesitated.
Go on, a voice prodded in my mind.
I obeyed, pushing through the murky darkness all the way to the back. I stood there a moment, blinking in disorientation. Then I gasped.
It was indeed empty, except for the white burial sheet, which lay neatly folded across the floor.
My knees gave way.
At that moment, the sun rose in all its splendor, flushing the eastern sky with a soft, pink glow. As a brilliant shaft of light entered the doorway and illuminated the small, stone chamber, Jesus’ words rang through my mind: The Son of Man will be handed over to the Gentiles and put to death, but he will rise again on the third day.
I looked with rapture at the folded cloth and clutched it in my hands, tears of joy streaming down my face. I squeezed my eyes shut, an overwhelming peace welling up in my soul. With all my heart, I spoke the most sincere words I had ever spoken in my entire life.
I believe. And now I understand.
“It is this disciple who testifies to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.” – John 21:24
By Ellen Virginia