On a Friday Afternoon

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Crucifix at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona.

Some were there when Jesus, bloody and bruised, climbed the hill to the Place of the Skull. The women, wailing along with the infants in their arms; Simon of Cyrene, forced to carry the cross beam that Jesus could no longer bear; the chief priests and scribes and elders re-writing the narrative in their heads, making it make sense, putting themselves in the role of savior; the chosen apostles—eleven now—trying to blend in with the idly curious crowd, Joseph of Arimathea and Niccodemus, trying to hide their horror.

Some were there when Jesus staggered onto the hilltop; when Simon dropped the weighty beam onto the rocky ground; when the soldiers drove the nails and hoisted the body. The criminal on his right and on his left; the women who loved him; the disciple whom he loved; the abusive guards; the prophetic centurion.

These people knew why the darkness fell, why the earth shook, why the blood their hearts pumped felt like icy splinters spreading through their bodies.

But the man in Gerasene, clothed and in his right mind, had no idea. He only knew that, around three o’clock on a certain Friday afternoon, his clothes started to feel too tight and itchy. The deep wildness beyond the village beckoned. And he heard, ever so faintly, the squeal of distressed pigs.

So many people, far from Jerusalem that day, barely felt the earth shake, barely noticed the muted light, had no explanation for the emptiness enveloping them.

The man in his field near Bethsaida felt moisture on his eyelids, swore he saw the trees walking around. Peter’s mother-in-law began to feel feverish as she served lunch to her guests. The centurion’s servant had to take a sick day. A few men, in a panic, peeled away diseased flakes of skin from their arms and tugged their sleeves quickly over the spots. Jarius’ daughter didn’t feel like eating, didn’t even want to get out of bed that day. A man, carving a piece of wood, watched his knife drop to the floor as his fingers writhed with a painful cramp.

The woman, kneading leaven into her bread, did not know anything about the blood flowing from Jesus’ wounds. But she was horrified to see the drop of blood on her ankle, to trace the scarlet trail all the way up her leg and past her tender thigh. She grabbed the hem of her dress and pulled it back down. She closed her eyes and heard his words, “Daughter, go in peace.”

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