Kat Speeckaert – meditation on Luke 23: 39-49
The wood of this cross is rough against my naked back. Still morning, and the sun is already too hot, too bright. My body aches, and I try not to think about it. A fly lands on my face and I shake it off. Struggling to breathe, I straighten my legs and suck warm air into my lungs.
I could hear the crowd before they led us here to die. So much noise for this one man, some in sorrow and some in cruelty. My wife told me about him, this Jesus, when she came to the prison to bring me bread. Last week he was some kind of hero, and today he’s beside me. Why did it have to be today? People will be coming to look at him, to point and jeer, and insult, and us along with him. It’s humiliating. Why do I have to die with this guy? It isn’t fair.
My head hurts, and I’m thirsty. This Jesus is saying he forgives the soldiers for crucifying him. Forgives! How can he even think of anything other than the fear, the pain, this horrible exposure, our arms outstretched? It isn’t natural. Come down from the cross, indeed! As if anyone can get away from it. As if anyone who could would be here at all. It would be so easy to let go, to not struggle to breathe, to let it happen. It would be over. But my legs lift me by themselves, and I breathe.
I’m so afraid! I don’t want to die. I want it to be over. I can’t. I can’t.
The other guy, the one beside this Jesus, I forget his name. I know I’ve seen him, in the prison. It’s hard to think. He’s mocking Jesus too now. Save us, save yourself, if you’re really our King! I can’t take it anymore, I’m yelling back at him like something has taken over me. “Will you stop it! I’ve never seen this man in my life. You, I saw you in the prison. We’re both meant to be here and you know it. But this guy, what did he ever do? He just showed up out of nowhere, and people loved him and now they hate him. He doesn’t deserve to die.” My feet press into their wooden block, and I breathe.
“Jesus, don’t forget me! Take me with you!”
I don’t hear if he answers me. The crowd, the insults from the soldiers, what I’ve said: the sound of it covers everything else. But I feel a calmness wash over me. I am where I’m meant to be. The wood scraping the flesh off my back, my limbs heavy and aching. My mouth beginning to blister. It’s horrifying. But it will be okay. I try to breathe deep, and I can’t. The air, there’s too much air to fit inside me.
The sky darkens, a sudden relief. Like the shade of a plant growing outside the wall of a city. I can feel the tension as people start to become uneasy. The crowd is smaller now. There’s only so much slow dying you can watch before it starts to be too real. I’ve stood in those crowds. My breath gets stuck in my ribs as I lift myself higher, reaching my face to the sky. I feel less exposed away from the bright sunlight. I try not to think about how my body feels, how my wife must feel, our family. My body!
A terrible rending sound cuts through the air, and I hear a guard shouting that the temple curtain is torn in two. The temple! Oh G-d, what’s happening? What does it mean? What does it mean? I don’t understand. Jesus cries out beside me, and I know he’s died. I straighten my tired legs, and they shake. I am alone.
The day is getting old, and the guards need us to die more quickly so they can take the bodies down. They’ll break our legs, I’ve seen it before. I press the soles of my feet down and breathe, and breathe, and breathe. What will happen? The man, Jesus, I think he said I would be with him. Where will we be? But he said it, I know he did. I open my mouth and pull shallow air into lungs that refuse to fill.
I think, I think I believe. The soldiers are coming, and I’m terrified, and relieved, and I feel so alone. The soldiers are coming. I believe. I believe.