It begins at 6 o’clock in the morning
for even frolicking Roman procurators
rise early when there is killing work to be done.
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You say so.”
“Have you no answer [to the charges against you]?”
His answer – silence
Pilate consults the crowd.
It is a joke between them, this consulting.
“What would you have me do with this man?”
Barabbas we can imagine working the crowd,
but this man utters not a word.
Roman soldiers process him with his thorned crown and purple cloak
hailing him in cruel sarcasm, ‘king of the Jews’
and still he does not speak
they hit him on the head – more playful –
in the way of monsters –
than really hurtful
and they spit
and kneel to their prisoner king
And still he makes no sound.
They walk him to his own death
making him carry the burden of
his own electric chair –
a wooden cross
When it gets too heavy for his beaten back
a man named Simon is plucked from the
crowd to bear it for him
and we can imagine Simon trying to strike up conversation
that he might tell his friends and loved ones about it later
And still he says nothing
It is 9 o’clock in the morning
the day is turning to its brightness
and away from the dawning mists –
like the Galilee days of youth
and the Nazareth days of childhood
but not like them
for this is the day that will not pass him over
this is the day when the blood on his own
doorpost will not save him.
and within the vast silence that inhabits
his own soul, he says . . . he thinks . . . nothing
It is 9 o’clock in the morning
when they arrive at the Skull place
we can imagine the bird-picked bone-white bones
scattered like shining jewels all round,
some sticking up from the ground –
sign posts pointing to the sure destination
for those unfortunate enough to take their
And the cruel words of pseudo-hospitality
“Here. Have some of this.” The cup of
wine mixed with myrrh
a sedative to ease the passing begs the question:
can there ever be kindness from the executioner’s hand?
Whate’re the motive,
If there be kindness in
your heart, executioner
you’ll get no credit for it here
There is no sop for your conscience
in the sop you seek to give a dying man
who would live but for your hand –
that pain, friend, you will have to bear alone
in the silent places of your own heart.
As he hangs dying
the representatives of the state sit unnoticing below
gambling for the privilege of his few clothes
while kind he makes no noise to disturb
them at their gaming
Passers by taunt and jeer
save yourself! Jump down from that cross”
and even the ones who should know better
cannot contain their contagious cruelty
as the bitter herbs of their own mouths
pour forth venom for the one cheeky enough
to die in front of them . . .
“How about a saving miracle now?”
“Healed, did you? How about a healing now?”
The schoolyard bullies have been loosed
and even those dying beside him taunt and jeer
as if their crosses were somehow higher, better,
than his, as if his dying made their less bad.
He? He received their words into his own great silence
and still and yet, he said nothing,
thought . . . nothing.
It is noon
and this day
it is darkening time
as the shroud pall
of dying death
is pulled over the land
maybe this is his word?
No – silent he remains
as darkness claims
the frightened and the frightening
and still and yet he says nothing.
It is 3 o’clock in the afternoon
and the darkness ebbs away
like smoke from the chimneys
curling its way heavenward
leaving behind a light less bright
less sure of itself, its place in the midday world
It is 3 o’clock when he breaks his fast of silence
Eloi . . . Eloi . . . my God . . . my God . . .
Why have you forsaken me?
He calls for his God
Daddy, where are you?
Come get me, Dad.
I’m in trouble Pop.
Father, I need you.
He calls to his father, his God –
they hear Elijah
even now they cannot understand him
even now his words are mysterious to their ears
even now they confuse life for death, death for life
putting the proverbial mirror under his nose to see if he still lives
they rush to place a sponge of drink before him –
if he lives, surely he will drink
they poke sponge sticks at his mouth
as he cries his death rattling cry
and breathes no more
about the way he dies
the way he cries
the way he looks
the way he sighs
moves the battle-hardened
centurion to see not a dead
carcass but a son . . .
But he did not know him
did not love him
for no one who loved him
could have so quickly relegated
him to the past
speak of what he was
instead of what he is
no, for those who love,
that takes days, weeks, months, years –
this moving of a dear one from present to past
no, the ones who loved him
merely stood – silent – witness
offering the solace of presence
knowing it was not enough –
it never is, is it? This death bed
vigiling we do – no, it is never enough,
but it is all we have – and they gave it to him
their silence joined to his
providing for him in his dying as they had in his living
and the irony of killing the kind
of greeting lies with silence in the place with no need of words
continues as only those not allowed to speak are given witness
it is the women who stand with him at the end
those of no standing in any court, public or private
are left to watch the unfolding
never to be allowed to tell
to anyone but each other
but One Lover was not silent
sending a single sound into the cosmos
the sound of a curtain torn, rent,
from top to bottom
the sound of God’s own broken heart
flooding the world with its grief
and moving on to further reaches
no earth-small planet could contain
and the sound – that sound – the sound of tearing
echoes down the universe’s halls even now
stopping in the time of butterflies and babies and revolutions
to caress with the clawing tearing brokenness of a mother’s heart
that will not be comforted for a child who is no more
If God will hear our broken cries of pain and loss beyond bearing,
who will hear God’s? Who will take on God’s pain and in the taking, lessen it?
It is 6 o’clock in the evening
it’s nighttime, really, for those who
work with their hands and live by
the sweat of their brow
sundowning time – the beginning of sacred rest
more words now . . . the words of the business of burial
every death has them – from friends and lovers or strangers
for something must be done with the body
and so it was with him, Our Silent One
we can imagine the women going to one who can help
one with standing with the powers-that-be
and so the fixer goes to the Procurator
and utters the placating words of asking . . .
“Not too much trouble, surely?
Gesture of kindness appreciated . . .
perhaps a gift to grease the skids?”
And he, holder of power of life and death
the keys of empire securely in his hands,
his delicate palms no nails will ever pierce
marvels not at his own deed
not at the vagaries and cruelties and whims
that make him thus and the other so
nay – he wonders that the one he sent
died so fast – “dead already?”
That then, is the epitaph for The One
The One who lived among us for a time
and showed us another Way . . .
and he . .
And all . . .