The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Poem of The Man†God 605. Part 2.
Continued from Part 1. Read here:
24 Mary raises Her head from John's chest and looks at Her Jesus. She calls Him, as She cannot see Him well in the dim light and Her poor eyes are full of tears. She calls Him three times: «Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!» It is the first time that She calls Him by His name, since She has been on Calvary. Then, as a flash forms a kind of crown over the top of Golgotha, She sees Him, motionless, all bent forward, with His head hanging so much forward and to the right, that His cheek touches His shoulder and His chin rests on His ribs, and She understands. She stretches out Her hands in the dark air and shouts: «My Son! My Son! My Son!» She then listens... Also Her mouth is open, She seems to be wanting to hear also with it, as Her eyes are wide open to see... She cannot believe that Her Jesus is no longer...
John, who has also looked and heard and has understood that everything is over, embraces Mary and tries to take Her away saying: «He no longer suffers.»
But before the apostle finishes his sentence, Mary, who has understood, frees Herself, She turns round, She bends towards the ground, She covers Her eyes with Her hands and shouts: «I no longer have My Son!»
She then staggers and would fall if John did not hold Her against his heart, and he then sits down, on the ground, to sustain Her on his chest, more easily until the Maries, no longer held back by the upper circle of armed soldiers – because, since the Jews have run away, the Roman soldiers have gathered in the open space below, commenting on the event – replace the apostle near the Mother.
The Magdalene sits where John was, and she almost lays Mary on her knees, holding Her between her arms and her breast, kissing Her deadly pale face, which is reclined on her compassionate shoulder. Martha and Susanna, with a sponge and a linen cloth soaked in vinegar, moisten Her temples and nostrils, while Her sister -in-law Mary kisses Her hands calling Her in a heart-rending voice, and as soon as Mary opens Her eyes again and casts a glance that Her grief makes, so to say, dull, she says to Her: «Daughter, my beloved daughter, listen... tell me that You see me... I am Your Mary... Don't look at me so!...» And as the first sob opens Mary's throat and Her first tears begin to fall, the good Mary of Alphaeus says: «Yes, weep... Here with me, as if You were near a mother, my poor holy daughter»; and when she hears Her say: «Oh! Mary! Mary! have you seen?», she moans: «Yes, I have... but... but... daughter... oh! daughter!...» And the elderly Mary can find no other word and weeps. She weeps disconsolately, echoed by all the other women, that is, Martha and Mary, John's mother and Susanna.
The other pious women are no longer there. I think that they have gone away, and the shepherds with them, when that feminine cry was heard...
25 The soldiers are speaking in low voices to one another.
«Have you noticed the Judaeans? They were afraid, now .»
«And they were beating their breasts.»
«The priests were the most terrorised!»
«What a fright! I have seen other earthquakes. But never like this one. Look: the ground is full of fissures.»
«And a whole stretch of the long way has slid down over there.»
«And there are bodies under it.»
«Leave them! So many snakes less.»
«Oh! another fire! In the country...»
«But is He really dead?»
«Can't you see? Do you doubt it?»
26 Joseph and Nicodemus appear from behind the rock. They had certainly taken shelter there, behind the protection of the mountain, to save themselves from the thunderbolts. They go to Longinus. «We want the Corpse.»
«Only the Proconsul can grant it. Go quick, because I heard that the Judaeans want to go to the Praetorium to obtain permission to fracture His legs. I would not like them to disfigure His body.»
«How do you know?»
«A report of the ensign. Go. I will wait.»
The two men rush down the steep road and disappear.
It is at this moment that Longinus approaches John and in a low voice says something to him, which I do not understand. Then he makes a soldier give him a lance. He looks at the women, who are all attending to Mary, Who is slowly recovering Her strength. They have all their backs turned to the cross.
Longinus places himself in front of the Crucified, he ponders carefully how to deal the blow and he strikes it. The lance penetrates deeply from the bottom upwards, from right to left.
John, wavering between the desire to see and the horror of seeing, makes a wry face for a moment.
«It is done, my friend» says Longinus, and he ends: «Better so. As for a knight. And without fracturing bones... He was really a Just Man!»
A lot of water and just a trickle of blood, already tending to clot, drip from the wound. I said drip. They only come out trickling from the neat cut that remains motionless, whereas, had there been any breathing, it would have opened and closed with the movements of the thorax and abdomen...
27 ...While on Calvary everything remains in this tragic situation, I join Joseph and Nicodemus, who are going down along a short cut to gain time.
They are almost at the bottom when they meet Gamaliel. An unkempt Gamaliel, with no headgear, no mantle, with his magnificent garment soiled with mould and torn by bramble. A Gamaliel who is running, climbing and panting, with his hands in his thin very grizzled hair of an elderly man. They speak to one another without stopping.
«You, Joseph? Are you leaving Him?»
«No, I am not. But how come you are here? And in that state?...»
«Dreadful things! I was in the Temple! The sign! The Temple door unhinged! The purple hyacinth veil is hanging torn! The Holy of Holies is open! There is anathema upon us!» He has spoken while running towards the summit, driven mad by the test.
The two men look at him go... they look at each other... they say together: «“These stones will shudder at My last words!” He had promised him!...»
They hasten their pace towards the town.
In the country, between the mountain and the walls and beyond them, many people looking idiotic are wandering, in the still dim light... They howl, weep and lament... Some say: «His Blood has rained fire!» Some exclaim: «Jehovah has appeared in the midst of the lightning to curse the Temple!» Some moan: «The sepulchres! The sepulchres!»
Joseph gets hold of a man who is striking his head against the walls and calls him by his name, dragging him as he enters the town: «Simon! What are you saying?»
«Leave me! You are dead, too! All dead! All outside! And they curse me.»
«He has gone mad» says Nicodemus.
They leave him and they hasten towards the Praetorium.
The town is a prey to terror. People roam beating their breasts. People who jump backwards or turn round frightened upon hearing a voice or steps behind them.
In one of the many dark archivolts, the apparition of Nicodemus dressed in white wool – because, in order to be quicker, he has taken off his dark mantle on Golgotha – causes a fleeing Pharisee to utter a cry of terror. He then realises that it is Nicodemus and he clings to his neck with a strange effusion, shouting: «Don't curse me! My mother appeared to me and said: “Be cursed forever!”» and then he collapses on the ground moaning: «I'm afraid! I'm afraid!»
«They are all mad!» say the two men.
They arrive at the Praetorium. And it is only here, while waiting to be received by the Proconsul, that Joseph and Nicodemus understand the reason for so much terror. Many sepulchres had been opened by the earthquake, and there were people who swore that they had seen skeletons come out of them, and that for a moment they resumed human appearance and were going about accusing and cursing those who were guilty of the deicide.
28 I leave them in the entrance-hall of the Praetorium, which Jesus' two friends enter without so many stupid horrors and fears of contamination, and I go back to Calvary, joining Gamaliel, who by now exhausted, is climbing the last few metres. He is proceeding striking his breast, and when he arrives at the first of the two open spaces, he throws himself on the ground, face downwards, a long white form on the yellowish ground, and he says moaning: «The sign! The sign! Tell me that You forgive me! A whisper, even only a whisper, to tell me that You hear me and forgive me.»
I understand that he thinks that Jesus is still alive. And he changes his mind only when a soldier, pushing him with his lance, says: «Get up and be silent. It's of no use! You should have thought of that previously. He is dead. And I, a heathen, am telling you: this Man, Whom you have crucified, was really the Son of God!»
«Dead? Are You dead? Oh!...» Gamaliel raises his terrorised face, he tries to see as far up as the top, in the twilight. He cannot see much, but he can see enough to realise that Jesus is dead. And he sees the compassionate group that is consoling Mary, and John standing on the left side of the cross and weeping, and Longinus, standing straight on the right side, solemn in his respectful posture.
He kneels down, stretches his arms out and weeping says: «It was You! It was You! We can no longer be forgiven. We have asked Your Blood upon us. And It cries to Heaven, and Heaven curses us... Oh! But You were Mercy!... I say to You, I, the destroyed rabbi of Judah: “Your Blood on us, for pity's sake “. Sprinkle us with It! Because only Your Blood can impetrate forgiveness for us...» and he weeps. And then, in a lower voice, he confesses his torture: «I have the requested sign... But ages and ages of spiritual blindness are upon my interior sight, and against my present will rises the voice of my proud thought of the past... Have mercy on me! Light of the world, let one of Your rays descend on the darkness that did not understand You! I am the old Judaean faithful to what I thought was justice, and it was error. I am now a barren land, no longer with any of the ancient trees of the ancient Faith, without any seed or stalk of the new Faith. I am an arid desert. Work the miracle of making a flower, that has Your name, spring up in this poor heart of an old obstinate Israelite. Since You are the Liberator, come into my poor thought, which is a prisoner of formulas. Isaiah says so: “...He paid for sinners and took upon Himself the sins of many.” Oh! also mine, Jesus Nazarene...»
He stands up. He looks at the cross which is becoming neater and neater in the light that is clearing up, and then he goes away, stooping, aged, destroyed.
And on Calvary there is once again silence, just broken by Mary's weeping. The two robbers, worn out by fear, no longer speak.
29 Nicodemus and Joseph arrive back running and they say that they have Pilate's permission. But Longinus, who is not too trustful, sends a horse-soldier to the Proconsul to learn what he has to do also with regard to the two robbers. The soldier goes and come back at a gallop with the order to hand over Jesus and break the legs of the other two, by will of the Jews.
Longinus calls the four executioners, who are cravenly crouched under the rock, still terrorised by what has happened, and orders them to give the robbers the death-blow with a club. Which takes place without any protest by Disma, to whom the blow of the club, delivered to his heart, after striking his knees, breaks in half, on his lips, the name of Jesus, in a death-rattle. The other robber utters horrible curses. Their death-rattles are lugubrious.
30 The four executioners would also like to take care of Jesus, taking Him down from the cross. But Joseph and Nicodemus do not allow them. Also Joseph takes off his mantle and tells John to do likewise and to hold the ladders, while they climb them with levers and tongs.
Mary stands up trembling, supported by the women, and She approaches the cross.
In the meantime the soldiers, having fulfilled their task, go away. And Longinus, before descending beyond the lower open space, turns round from the height of his black horse to look at Mary and at the Crucified. Then the noise of the hooves resounds on the stones and that of the weapons against the armour, and fades away in the distance.
The left palm is unnailed. The arm falls along the Body, which is now hanging semi-detached.
They tell John to climb up as well, leaving the ladders to the women. And John, after climbing up where Nicodemus was previously, passes Jesus' arm round his neck and holds it so, hanging completely on his shoulder, embraced at the waist by his arm and held by the tips of the fingers not to touch the horrible gash of the left hand, which is almost open. When the feet are unnailed, John has to make a great effort to hold and support the Body of his Master between the cross and his own body.
Mary has already placed Herself at the foot of the cross, sitting with Her back against it, ready to receive Her Jesus in Her lap.
But the unnailing of the right arm is the most difficult operation. Despite all John's efforts, the Body is hanging completely forward and the head of the nail is deeply sunk in the flesh. And as they do not want to make the wound worse, the two compassionate men work hard. At last the nail is seized with the tongs and pulled out gently.
John has been holding Jesus all the time by the armpits, with His head hanging on his shoulder, while Nicodemus and Joseph get hold of Him, one at the thighs, the other at the knees, and they cautiously come down the ladders.
31 When on the ground, they would like to lay Him on the sheet that they have spread on their mantles. But Mary wants Him. She has opened Her mantle, letting it hang on one side, and She is sitting with Her knees rather apart to form a cradle for Her Jesus.
While the disciples are turning round to give Her Son to Her, the crowned head falls back and the arms hang down towards the ground, and the wounded hands would rub on the soil, if the pity of the pious women did not hold them up to prevent that.
He is now in His Mother's lap... And He looks like a big tired child who is asleep all cuddled up in his mother's lap. Mary is holding Him with Her right arm round the shoulders of Her Son and Her left one stretched over the abdomen to support Him also by the hips.
Jesus' head is resting on His Mother's shoulder. And She calls Him... She calls Him in a heart-rending voice. She then detaches Him from Her shoulder and caresses Him with Her left hand, She takes and stretches out His hands and, before folding them on His dead body, She kisses them and weeps on their wounds. Then She caresses His cheeks, particularly where they are bruised and swollen, She kisses His sunken eyes, His mouth lightly twisted to the right and half-open.
She would like to tidy His hair, as She has tidied His beard encrusted with blood. But in doing so, She touches the thorns. She stings Herself trying to remove that crown, and She wants to do it by Herself, with the only hand which is free, and She rejects everybody saying: «No, no! I will! I will!» and She seems to be holding the tender head of a new-born baby with Her fingers, so delicately does She do it. And when She succeeds in removing the torturing crown, She bends to cure all the scratches of the thorns with Her kisses.
With a trembling hand She parts His ruffled hair, She tidies it and weeps, speaking in a low voice, and with Her fingers She wipes the tears that drop on the cold body covered with blood and She thinks of cleaning it with Her tears and Her veil, which is still round Jesus' loins. And She pulls one end of it towards Herself and She begins to clean and dry the holy limbs with it. And She continually caresses His face, then His hands and His bruised knees and then reverts to drying His Body, on which endless tears are dropping.
And while doing so Her hand touches the gash on His chest. Her little hand, covered with the linen veil, enters almost completely into the large hole of the wound. Mary bends to see in the dim light which has formed, and She sees. She sees the chest torn open and the heart of Her Son. She utters a cry then. A sword seems to be splitting Her heart. She shouts and then throws Herself on Her Son and She seems dead, too.
32 They succour and console Her. They want to take Her divine Dead Son away from Her and as She shouts: «Where, where shall I put You? In which place, safe and worthy of You?» Joseph, all bent in a respectful bow, his open hand pressed against his chest, says: «Take courage, o Woman! My sepulchre is new and worthy of a great man. I give it to Him. And my friend here, Nicodemus, has already taken the spices to the sepulchre, as he wishes to offer them. But I beg You, as it is getting dark, let us proceed... It is Preparation Day. Be good, o holy Woman!»
Also John and the women beg Her likewise and Mary allows Her Son to be removed from Her lap, and She stands up, distressed, while they envelop Him in a sheet, begging: «Oh! do it gently!»
Nicodemus and John at the shoulders, Joseph at the feet, they lift, the Corpse enveloped not only in the sheet, but resting also on the mantles which act as a stretcher, and they set out down the road.
Mary, supported by Her sister -in-law and by the Magdalene, goes down towards the sepulchre, followed by Martha, Mary of Zebedee and Susanna, who have picked up the nails, the tongs, the crown, the sponge and the cane.
On Calvary remain the three crosses, the central one of which is bare and the other two have their living trophies, who are dying.
33 «And now» says Jesus «pay attention. I spare you the desc