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Death of the Son of God

History is rent in two.

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The Crucifixion, by Leon Bonnat
And Jesus answering, said: You know not what you ask. Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink?

Night in a garden. Eleven men—fishermen, zealots, a tax collector—have finished a meal with their master. It was to be their last.


All but the master are asleep. On the crest of the slope, he waits as fate looms at dawn. Crimson droplets pool by his knees. Omniscience is a terrible burden.

A chorus of footsteps sounds in the distance. Soon, the sight of torches, raging with auburn flames. It is the betrayer, flanked by a band of priests, servants, and soldiers.

One who ate, prayed, and followed approaches on foot. He plants the sign coldly on the master's cheek. At the signal, the captors seize him. The fisherman swings a sword in protest, sending the servant's ear to the earth. In the melee, a straggling youth dashes naked through the trees.

They have bound the master. They drag him to a courtyard, and the glow of flames reveal his accusers: priests and elders, friends and enemies. They shout taunts and libels. The Arimathean tries in vain to intervene. From a stone-mounted throne, the high priest demands an answer: Art thou the Christ?

"You have said so."


The priest tears his cloak. The fisherman from afar watches as the master is hauled to the praetorium. There, atop the browned stones beside the arcade, the procurator's soldiers bind the master to a pillar. They snap their whips on the skin of his back sending streams of crimson to the stone beneath. They place woven thorns atop his head: Hail, king of the Jews.

The prisoner is taken to the prefect. Here, he finds a most unusual defendant: A revolutionary with no army. A king with no court. A God bloodied and bound.

He sees no fault in the man, and sees no fault in the mob. What, after all, is truth? Death won the plebiscite, and politics is politics.

The prefect washes his hands, but the die is cast. The sentence is death. The means is hanging from a tree. The path is long and public.

Friends and accusers line the streets. His mother and brethren look on in dismay. A thick wooden beam is saddled unsteady atop his shoulders. He falls, and dirt kicks into his wet and tender wounds. He falls again to the jeers of the crowd. They know not what they do. The soldiers toss a Cyrenian to his side who helps him finish the walk.

Now to the place of the skull. Atop a rock-covered hill overlooking the city, the master is held to a vertical post. Rusted spikes clink through his bones as his clothes are torn aside. He has not the strength to scream or will to drink. The soldiers hoist him skyward as he falls with the beam into the pit. Gravity pulls down as nails and bones pull up. Above his head, the prefect wrote what he wrote: "The King of the Jews."

At the cross all are counted. The betrayer has gone to his own and burst asunder in a field of blood. The fisherman dithered and fled. The one whom he loves is in the hands of his mother.

The master looks out on the crowd: Romans and Jews, mothers and fathers, drunkards and zealots. He begs his Father forgive them.

His followers recall that many were called but few were chosen. Those whom he called gave up houses and wives, gave up riches and dreams, hated fathers, mothers, and even their lives. They let the dead bury their dead, and put hands to the plough and would not turn back. They picked up their crosses and followed him here to watch this most slow and agonizing demise.

They and the centurion looked on the man lifted high. His skin blows in the breeze like the tatters of a flag. In his eyes, the look of mission. All who are poor, look and see the suffering servant. All who are weak, come and behold the man. All who are strong, tremble at this spotless victim.

In the environs of Judea, history is rent in two with the tearing of the veil. The master lifts his face to Heaven and declares it finished.

Truly, this man was the Son of God.


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