A hollow, empty wind, mingling with the light scent of stale air and decay, sang a funeral lament over the nearby city. The burnt orange hillside overlooked the arid region of stony highlands. Clusters of rotting Acacia trees dotted the terrain alongside barely exposed faces of stone jutting up from the ground in a myriad of misshapen forms. In the distance, the rolling hills, like brown and grey waves, rose until they kissed the overcast sky. Only a sparse sprinkling of greenery, the first signs of spring, splashed color on the dry, rugged landscape.
On the edge of the city, a hill, corroded with the ravages of time, bore gaping holes of darkness mirroring the empty sockets of a mortal skull. Three wooden crosses crowned its flat peak, silhouetted against an ever-deepening sky.
On the center cross, a man hung as a living sacrifice. With every breath, his flayed skin ripped against the course wood. A caustic burning pierced his hands and feet, and blood oozed from the barbs imbedded along his brow. He tried to ignore his thirst as his mouth stung with the warm saltiness of blood.
The earth convulsed, sending a fresh surge of pain through his battered body. The trenchant mocking of his enemies lingered in the air. Through swollen eyes, he tried to discern a familiar face from the onslaught of foes. All but one of his closest friends had deserted him. The bleeding of his heart from the betrayal, denial, and now desertion, flowed thicker than the crimson cascading over his body.
His eyes focused on his mother’s face, the face of love washed in sorrow. Heaviness penetrated his chest. How he wished she had been spared this sword piercing her heart.
A black shadow of fear crept across the terrain, hauling with it the heavy numbness of dread. It draped the city in darkness, slinking over its stone walls, snaking up the rugged hill, swallowing the crosses in its wake, and then engulfing the rocky highlands behind in a fog of despair.
The laughter ceased and the deafening resonance of silence quelled the air.
Terror gripped the man’s soul as his eyes scanned the sky. His heart pounded, causing blood to spit from his wounds. Above him hovered the cup of suffering, the infernal chalice of holy wrath.
This was the moment the man feared most.
The chalice tipped, spilling out its black, murky substance, drenching him in its wrath, crushing him under the burden of the world’s sin. His body slumped from enervation against the iron spikes.
The sky deepened still, until all the terrain was mired in darkness. The city he loved was cast in shadow even as the lambs within were being slaughtered, meaningless rituals partaken by murderers.
The gale howled at a feverish pitch, a guttural, raspy breath biting at his shredded skin. Yet still the chalice pummeled his broken spirit. His soul writhed under the anguish of abandonment.
“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” he cried. “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
For nine hours he hung, tattered and torn. An ancient story told through the ages, so familiar it threatens to become trite. And though the symbol of the cross reminds us the gift of grace is free, let us never forget, it came at a terrible price.
Matthew 27:46 KJV
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