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King Of The Jews by William T. Stead

CHAPTER IX. THE CRUCIFIXION.

Ye pious souls rise up and go,
With grateful penitence aglow
With me to Golgotha, and see
What shall be done your souls to free
See how the Mediator dies
The atoning death of sacrifice.

O, who can know the love that lives
In this heart now laid bare,
That kindness back for hatred gives
And saves us from despair?
Offer this love of His
Your heart's best impulses,
His cross before,
For evermore.

Thus they took Jesus and led him away, and a great multitude followed him. And when Jesus, bearing the cross, with the thieves also bearing their cross, was entering the street of Annas, Mary, the mother of Jesus, with Mary Magdalene and John and Joseph of Arimathea, came down the street by Pilate's house.

And Mary said to John, |O beloved disciple, how will it have gone with Jesus since thou didst last see him in the house of Caiaphas?|

Then answered John, |If the priests could do as they wish, then sure enough he would be already among the dead. But they could not carry out the sentence without permission of the governor. But Pilate, I hope, will not condemn him, as he has never done anything bad, but only what is good.|

Then prayed Mary Magdalene, |O Almighty God, incline the ruler's heart to justice, that he may protect the innocent against the wiles of the wicked.|

Then said Mary, the mother of Jesus, |Whither shall we go, O friends, oh, whither, that I may but once more see my beloved son? I must see him, but where can I find him? Perhaps, O perhaps, he lies buried in the deepest dungeon.|

Mary Magdalene said, |Alas! the most loving of teachers in prison!|

Joseph answered, |There is one to be seen from whom we can inquire.|

John said, |The best thing will be to go to Nicodemus; he surely knows what is happening to our dear Master.|

|Yes, let us go,| said Mary. |Every moment increases my grief in this uncertainty about the fate of my son.|

|Be strong in faith, dear mother,| said John. |Whatever happens it is God's will.| Suddenly a horrible noise of confused voices and tramping feet was heard in the distance. From the tumult could be heard the words: |On, on with him!| Mary started and they all stood listening while the noise came nearer and nearer.

|What terrible noise is that?| said Joseph. Then stood they all still listening to hear what it might signify.

Salome said, |As if of a thousand voices. What can it be?|

As they listened the procession to Golgotha was already half way down the street of Annas. In front marched the centurion holding in one hand the staff of authority, followed by Jesus, staggering painfully under the burden of his cross. Around Jesus stood four executioners who brutally goaded him forward. Behind Jesus came the thieves, each bearing his own cross. Behind them came soldiers carrying spears, in the midst of whom on a white horse rode a horseman carrying the Roman banner on which were the letters S. P. Q. R. By the side of the soldiery walked Annas and Caiaphas followed by all the council of the Sanhedrin. All around crowded a numerous multitude, whose shouts were heard almost without intermission. |Let him die!| they cried, |and all who hold with him.| Jesus, who had already fallen under the cross, walked slowly and with difficulty.

One of the executioners said unto him, |Is the burden already too heavy?| and the people shouted, |Drive him with violence, that we may get to Golgotha.|

The second executioner cried, |Take care, or he will be down.|

The progress was so slow that not even the head of the procession could be seen from where the two Marys and John were standing, wondering what the noise might mean.

Joseph said, |What shall we do? In this commotion we cannot venture into the city.|

But Mary said, |What may this noise signify? Surely it does not concern my son.|

As the noise waxed ever louder, Joseph said, |It seems as if an insurrection had broken out.|

Then said John, |We had better stop here till the storm passes over.|

While they stood waiting and wondering Simon of Cyrene came hastily into the street that lay between those of Pilate and Annas. He carried a basket, and looking anxiously around him, said, |I must hasten in order to get into the city. The eve of the feast is coming, and I have only a short time left in which to make my purchases and get everything ready, so that I may get home in time.| Hardly had he said this than he heard the sound of a great outcry, and amidst which he could only distinguish the words, |Let him not rest! Urge him on with blows!|

Said Simon, |I hear a tumult -- an outcry of a crowd -- what has happened in the city? I will keep quiet a little -- perhaps my ears have deceived me.| Jesus had fallen faint and had staggered against the house of Ahasverus and was there endeavoring to support himself.

The third executioner said to him roughly, |It is no use thy fainting. Thou must keep on to Golgotha.|

Then Ahasverus came out of his house and said, |Be off from my house; here is no place for resting.| Simon, who was listening without being able to see the cause of the commotion, said, |The noise waxes louder. I must hasten to see what it is. What comes there? Ah, I cannot get in here. I will wait and see what happens.|

Then, as the procession turned the corner of Annas' street, Joseph of Arimathea, listening, said, |I think the crowd is coming out of the city gates,| and John, seeing the cross said, |It appears that someone is being led out to Golgotha for execution.|

Mary, the mother of Jesus, saw him and cried out with a piercing wail, |It is he. Oh God! it is my son.|

Jesus meanwhile staggered under the cross, but was forced forward by the executioners grumbling as they did so, |He will drop on the road.|

[Illustration: |Jesus staggered under the cross.|]

The centurion, seeing that Jesus from sheer exhaustion had again fallen, reached him a bottle, saying, |Here, strengthen thyself.| Jesus took it, but did not drink of it.

Mary cried, weeping, |Ah, there, I see him led to death even as a malefactor!|

Then said John, as he tenderly supported her, |Mother, it is the hour of which he has told us before. Such is the will of the Father.|

Then said the centurion to Jesus, |Wilt thou not drink? Then you must go on!|

Then one of the executioners shook him, saying, |Rouse thyself, lazy king of the Jews!|

Another of the executioners said, |Forward! Pull thyself together!| The third said, |Do not act thus weakly; we must get on.|

Then Mary cried as she looked on the scene, |Oh where is any sorrow like unto my sorrow?|

The third executioner, seeing that all the efforts to compel Jesus to move forward had failed, said, |He is too much exhausted; someone must help him, otherwise -- |

Then the rabbi, seeing Simon of Cyrene, pointed him out, saying, |Here, this stranger -- |

The Pharisees said, |Just seize him!|

Then said the centurion, |Come hither, thou hast broad shoulders that can carry something.|

Simon, protesting, said, |I must -- |

|Truly you must,| said one of the executioners, |otherwise there will be blows.|

Simon began again, |I do not know,| but the centurion interrupted him, saying, |You will find out soon enough -- do not refuse.|

|Flog him if he refuses to go!| said the Pharisee.

Simon struggled crying, |Indeed I am innocent; I have committed no crime.|

|Silence!| said the centurion.

Simon replied, |Only not by force like this,| and then beholding Christ he said, |What is this I see? This is the holy man from Nazareth.|

|Place thy shoulders here,| said an executioner.

Then said Simon, |For the love of thee I will carry it. O, could I thereby make myself useful to thee.|

Christ, who stood exhausted on one side, looked upon Simon and said, |God's blessing be upon thee and thine!|

|Now, forward,| said the centurion; |follow thou with the beam of the cross!|

The first priest advancing, said, |Thou canst come quickly enough now.|

The third executioner, seeing that Jesus still stood unable to move, seized him by the neck and shook him saying, |See with what consideration we treat thee; even the cross has been taken from thee.|

|Dost thou need anything else?| said another of the men.

|Let him be,| said the centurion. |We will now halt a little that he may recover before we ascend the hill.|

While the procession halted Veronica and the women of Jerusalem approached. Caiaphas meanwhile, chafing with vexation at the delay, exclaimed, |What! Still another stoppage! When shall we come to Calvary?|

Veronica, coming up to Christ, kneeled before him, and offering him her handkerchief, said, |O Lord, how is thy face covered with blood and sweat. Wilt thou not wipe it off?|

Jesus took the handkerchief and wiped his face and gave it back to her, saying, |Compassionate soul, the Father will reward thee for this.|

Then spoke the women of Jerusalem, who drew near to the Lord with their little ones, |Thou good teacher; never to be forgotten benefactor; noblest friend of men, thus art thou rewarded. How we pity thee!| Then they wept.

Christ looking upon them in their tears said: |Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but for yourselves and your children. For behold the days are coming in which they shall say 'Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bare, and the paps that never gave suck.' Then shall they call to the mountains, fall on us and to the hills, cover us. For if they do these things in the green tree, what will be done in the dry?|

The women answered, |Alas, how will it be in the future for us and our children?|

By this time the patience of the centurion was exhausted, and he cried out, |Clear out now, these womenfolk.|

The third executioner, pushing them roughly away, said, |What use are your women's tears? Back!| While the other executioners cried as they pushed Jesus forward, |On with thee to the hill of death!|

The crowd took up the cry and said, |Quick; forward to Calvary!|

|Are we really going forward again?| said the rabbi, and Nathanael said, shrugging his shoulders, |The centurion is far too mild.|

|Do not spare him so much,| said a priest.

The long procession was once more in motion when there appeared a servant from Pilate. The man cried, |Halt!| and the procession stopped. |By command of the governor the centurion must appear before him as quickly as possible and receive further orders.|

Caiaphas exclaimed, |What does this mean? What new orders are required? The death sentence is pronounced and must be carried out without delay.|

Then said the centurion bluntly, |No, this will not happen until I have received the further orders of my lord.| Then turning to the soldiers he said, |Keep watch meanwhile and go with the condemned to Golgotha. Then dismiss this man (Simon) and await my arrival.| The centurion then went with the servant to Pilate and the procession set forth again.

The people cried wildly, |Up to Golgotha, to the cross with him. Hail to Israel. The enemy is vanquished. We are free. Long live the Sanhedrin.|

Jesus looked upon his mother as the procession passed the corner of Annas' street, but spoke not.

Then said John, when the dolorous procession had passed, |Mother, shall we not go back to Bethany? Thou wilt not be able to bear the sight?|

But Mary answered, |How can a mother leave her child in the last and bitterest need?|

Cleophas objected, |But evil might befall thee, if they recognized thee as his mother.|

Mary replied, |I will suffer with him, bear scorn and shame with him; die with him.|

|Only,| said John, |if the strength of thy body does not give way.|

|Fear not,| said Mary. |I have asked strength of God and he has heard me. Let us go after them.|

All answered, |Best of mothers, we follow thee,| and they slowly followed the procession to Calvary.

* * * * * *

And when they reached Golgotha, which is by interpretation the place of a skull, they crucified him there. But first they hanged the two thieves on the crosses, the one on the left, the other on the right. Their arms were tied over the cross at the wrists, and their feet were tied with cord to the beam. But Jesus was nailed to the central cross while it yet lay with the head slightly raised upon the ground. One nail was driven through the palms of each hand, and one through the two feet, which were placed the one above the other. Jesus lay silent without moving. On his head was the crown of thorns, from which a little blood trickled over his brow. His hands and his feet bled a little, but the rest of his body was pale and colorless, a light cloth only being cast around his loins.

The centurion who had returned from Pilate, stood on the right of the cross giving orders. The lictor, mounted on a white horse, stood near the soldiers, who held on high the Roman standard with the letters S. P. Q. R. Caiaphas, Annas and all the members of the Sanhedrin stood on the left exulting. A great crowd of sightseers thronged the place. Among them, coming from behind the centurion, were the holy women from Bethany, with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John, and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

Then said the executioners to the centurion, |We have finished with these,| pointing to the thieves, |Now must the king of Jews be exalted upon his throne.|

Which, hearing, the priests cried angrily, |Not king! Deceiver, traitor!|

The centurion, who held in his hand a scroll or escutcheon, said, |First, by command of the governor, this writing must be fastened to the cross. Faustus,| he added, turning to one of the hangmen named Faustus, |make fast this title over the cross.| Faustus took the scroll from the centurion, and going to the cross, nailed it with one hammer stroke over the head of Jesus, saying, |Ah, an escutcheon displayed; this is right royal!| When this was done according to the command of the governor, the centurion said to the executioners, |Now, up with the cross! Not carelessly, but lay hold firmly.| Then two hangmen, taking the cross by the arms, lifted it up so that its foot fell into the hole prepared for it. But as the cross bearing the body of Jesus was heavy, the third hangman placed his back under it near to the feet of Jesus, saying, |Come, now, all together,| and so helping raised it on high. The fourth then filled in the hole at the foot saying when he finished, |All right, the cross stands firm.|

Then said the centurion, addressing the chief priests, |The execution is accomplished.|

|Quite admirably so,| said Caiaphas with a radiant face. |Thanks and applause from us all!| |Yea, thanks, and applause from us all,| echoed the Pharisees, looking up at the cross.

Caiaphas then declared, |This shall be a feast day forever.|

And the Pharisees said, |Yes, for all time to come it shall be kept every year with grateful jubilation.|

|And now,| said the aged Annas, |now gladly will I go down to my fathers since I have lived to have the joy of seeing this wretch on the cross.| And as he gazed long as if exultingly drinking in the pleasure of satisfied vengeance, he saw for the first time the writing on the cross, but his old eyes could not decipher the words. Turning to Caiaphas he said, |The superscription seems to be very short.| Then the Jews drew nearer to see what was written. The hangmen seated themselves on the ground at the foot of the cross and looked up at Jesus.

Then the rabbi, reading the words written by Pilate exclaimed, |That is an insult, an outrage upon the people and the Sanhedrin!|

Caiaphas, hearing him, asked, |What is written?|

Annas, who had also looked at the inscription, said, |The rabbi is right. The Sanhedrin cannot allow this to pass.|

Then said the rabbi, |It is written, 'Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews!'|

Caiaphas as if incredulous, approached the cross and reading it himself, started back with indignation. |Verily,| he cried, |that is an affront upon the honor of our nation.|

|Down with it at once,| cried the priest.

But Caiaphas said, |We dare not touch it ourselves, but do you two,| addressing the rabbi and Saras, |hasten at once to the governor to demand from him, in the name of the Sanhedrin and the assembled people that the superscription shall be altered. Say to him, 'Write not the king of the Jews, but that he said, I am king of the Jews?'|

|We are off at once,| said the rabbi and Saras.

|Stay,| said Caiaphas, |also request from the governor that he may order the bones of the crucified to be broken and their bodies taken down from the cross before the eve of the Passover.|

When the rabbi and Saras departed on their mission, the hangmen, who had been sitting at the foot of the cross, bethought themselves, and the first, who was named Agrippa, standing up, said, |Now, comrades, let us divide our share.| Taking the mantle of Jesus, they seized each one corner, and then pulling all together, rent it into four parts. The coat remained. Agrippa held it up, |The mantle has made just four pieces; shall we rip up the coat also? See, it is without seam.|

|No,| said Faustus, who had fastened the superscription over the head of Jesus, |it would be better to cast lots for it.|

|Look,| said Agrippa, as he went to the foot of the cross and took up the basket, |see, here are dice.| Then the four hangmen, standing at the feet of Jesus threw the dice, Agrippa threw them first, saying, |I will try my luck first. Alas, that is too little,| he added, as he counted up the result of his throw, |I have lost.|

Catiline, the third hangman, as he rattled the dice in his hand, looked up at Jesus and said, |Hi! you up there, if you can still work miracles on the cross, give me good luck.| The others shrugged their shoulders and said, |What does he care about us?| Catiline's throw was not high.

Then Nero said, |I ought to have had better luck,| and throwing the dice he counted fifteen. |Nearly enough; now, Faustus, it is your turn.|

Faustus threw the dice, saying, |I ought to get it.| They all bent over to see the result.

|Eighteen!| cried Catiline; |that is the best yet.|

Then said Agrippa, |Take it,| handing him the mantle, |it is thine; take it away.|

And Nero consoled himself by saying, |You are not to be envied.|

Faustus gathered up the coat, and folding it up put it away.

By this time the rabbi and Saras returned from Pilate, and coming back to Caiaphas they said, |Our mission was in vain. The governor would not listen to us.|

Caiaphas indignantly asked, while the priests and Pharisees crowded around, |Did he give you no answer at all?|

|This only,| said the rabbi. |What I have written I have written.|

|Intolerable,| said Annas.

Caiaphas also was much perturbed. But collecting himself he asked, |What did he order about the breaking of the bones?|

|About this matter he said he would give his orders to the centurion,| answered the rabbi.

Then seeing that no more could be done, the Jews began to revile Jesus, going up to the cross and wagging their heads and scoffing at him. Josue, the priest, went up first and said, |So then it remains written, king of the Jews. Behold, if thou art king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.| And all the Jews laughed together.

Then said Eliezer, |Thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it again in three days, save thyself!|

And Caiaphas said, |Ha! thou that savest others, thyself thou canst not save.|

|Come down,| cried one of the witnesses, |Art thou not the Son of God?|

And Annas said, |He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he will have him.|

Then cried the hangmen, |What! Don't you hear? Show thy power, mighty king of the Jews,| and so the sport went on.

Then Jesus, who all this time had hung motionless and silent, raised slowly and with pain, his head, which had been bowed down, and said, |Father, forgive them, they know not what they do!|

Hearing Jesus speak, the thief who was crucified on his left said unto him, |Hearest thou? If thou be Christ save thyself and us.|

But the other thief who was crucified on the right, answered and said, |Dost thou not fear God, seeing that thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss.| Then turning to Jesus he said, |Lord remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom?|

Then Jesus looked upon him and said, |Verily, I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.|

|Listen to that,| said Caiaphas scornfully, |he speaks as if he had power over the gates of Paradise.|

|What,| said the rabbi. |Have not his pride and presumption deserted him even as he hangs helpless on the cross?| And they were wroth with Jesus.

During all this time Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John had been slowly approaching the cross, and now they stood immediately below Jesus, Mary on the right, John on the left. Then Jesus beholding them, said to Mary, |Mother, behold thy son.| And slowly and with difficulty turning his head to see John, Jesus added, |Son, behold thy mother.|

Then Mary cried in ecstacy of love and adoration, |Even in dying thou carest still for thy mother.|

And John tenderly supporting Mary, but looking above to Jesus, exclaimed, |Thy last request is sacred to me.|

And then to Mary he said, |Thou my mother, I thy son.|

Then Jesus in a hollow voice, cried hoarsely, |I thirst.|

The centurion hearing him said, |He thirsts and calls for drink.|

|Then,| said Faustus, |I will reach him some at once.| Then taking the reed with the sponge, he filled it with vinegar and passed it to the centurion, who, taking a small phial from his dress, poured hyssop on the sponge. Faustus then reached the sponge up to the lips of Jesus. But Jesus turned away his head and would not drink. |Here, drink,| said Faustus. |What, wilt thou not?| and seeing that Jesus would not touch the sponge he took it away.

Then Jesus cried in agony, |Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!|

But those hearing him did not understand, but imagined he cried for Elias.

|Hark!| said they. |He cried for Elias.|

Then Caiaphas laughed and said, |Let be; let us see whether Elias will come to save him.|

Then Jesus raising his head with a great effort to heaven, and breathing heavily cried with a loud voice and said, |It is finished. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit!| And as Jesus spoke these words his head fell forward on his breast and he gave up the ghost. Then suddenly the earth rocked and shook violently -- thunder pealed -- fierce lightnings flashed -- darkness fell like a pall over the scene -- the people stood trembling with fear.

[Illustration: |It is finished.|]

The priests and the people cried out in terror, saying: |What a dreadful earthquake! Do you hear the crash of falling rocks? Woe, woe be to us!|

But the centurion said, |Certainly, this was a righteous man.|

Another soldier replied, |God himself bears witness by these convulsions of nature.|

The centurion said, |Oh, his patience in the worst agony, his noble calm, this last loud cry to heaven at the moment before death, all betoken his divine origin. Verily, he is a Son of God!|

|Come neighbors,| said Oziel, |I will remain no longer in this terrible place.|

|Yes,| cried Helen, |let us go home and may God have mercy on us.|

And others smiting their breasts cried, |Almighty God, we have sinned! Forgive us.|

And so it came to pass that no one remained round the cross but the holy women and John, and the friends of Jesus with the hangmen.

The chief priests and the rulers still stood together marveling near the cross of the repentant thief, when suddenly a temple servant came rushing into their midst, breathless with haste.

|High priests and assembled council!| he exclaimed, |a fearful thing has occurred in the holy place. I tremble in every limb.|

|What is it?| cried Caiaphas in alarm. |Not the temple?|

|Has it fallen?| said Annas.

|No,| said the servant, |not that, but the veil of the temple has been rent in twain from the top to the bottom. I hastened hither with staggering feet, and feared the whole world was bursting asunder with the shock!|

|Dreadful!| exclaimed the priests and Pharisees, throwing up their hands.

But Caiaphas said, |It is that wretch who has done this by his magic arts. What a blessing it is that he is out of the world! Otherwise he would bring all the elements into disorder.|

Then all the priests and Pharisees raised up their voices and cried, shaking their fists against Jesus, |Cursed be the ally of Beelzebub!|

|Now,| said Caiaphas, |let us hurry home and see what has happened; then we will come back at once. For I cannot rest until I have seen this fellow's bones broken and the corpse flung into the grave of the transgressors.|

When Caiaphas and Annas and all the rulers of the Jews had departed, Nicodemus said to Joseph of Arimathea, having overheard the parting word-of Caiaphas, |Shall the holy body of the Son of God be delivered over to such dishonor as to be flung into the grave of the evil-doers?|

|Listen, friends,| said Joseph, |what I have decided to do. I will go straightway to Pilate, and will implore him to give me the body of Jesus. He can hardly refuse me this favor.|

|Do so, by all means,| said Nicodemus. |Hasten hither, and I will bring the spices for him.| They having departed, the holy women tremblingly drew round the cross.

|Fear not, good women,| said the centurion, |no harm shall happen to you.|

Then Mary Magdalene clasped the cross with both her arms, pressed it to her breast and cried through her tears as she looked up at the silent and lifeless form above, |O dearest Master, my heart hangs with thee on the cross!|

Then entered a servant of Pilate, and addressing the centurion, said unto him, |This is the command of my lord: Break the legs of the crucified and take down their bodies. Everything must be over before the eve of the Passover begins.|

The centurion said: |It shall be done at once. Men, first break the legs of these two.|

Catiline said, |Come, let us put this business through without more delay.| Then all the hangmen took ladders and placed them against the crosses of the thieves. Catiline, seizing a strong club, then mounted the ladder against the cross on the right hand.

|Strike,| said Faustus, |so as to kill him.| Then Catiline smote the penitent thief heavily over each of the thighs and then across the shoulder bone. As the blow fell the man's head fell forward and he gave up the ghost.

|There,| said Catiline, |he wakes no more.|

In like manner did Nero to the thief on the left hand, saying, |I will hasten the other out of the world.|

When the blows were falling upon the body of the thief, Mary, the mother of Jesus, who had watched with terror the blows of the hangman, cried out, shuddering, |O my Son, they will surely not deal so cruelly with thy holy body!|

Nero called out to the thief, |Movest thou no more? No, thou hast had enough. I have given thee thy wages.| Then coming down from the ladder they made ready to break the legs of Jesus.

But as the hangman approached the foot of the cross with the ladder and the club, Mary Magdalene sprang before him, and thrusting him back with her slender arm, cried piteously, |Oh, spare him, spare him!|

Then Catiline looking up at Jesus said, |Behold, he is already dead. There is no need therefore to break his legs.|

|But,| said Faustus, |in order to make sure, I will pierce his heart with a spear.| Then grasping a lance he thrust it into the right side of Jesus, and forthwith there spurted out blood and water. John, who was looking up at the holy women, shuddered as the spear entered the side of Jesus.

Mary Magdalene turning to Mary said, |Oh, mother, that thrust hast pierced thy own heart also.|

Then said the centurion, |Now, take down the bodies from the cross.|

|Where,| said one of the hangmen, |shall we put them?|

The centurion replied, |As ordered, into the grave of the malefactor.|

Then said Mary, with a terrible sob: |What a word; it pierces my heart anew.|

|Ladders here,| said the hangmen, |we shall soon have them down.| Then the hangmen unfastened the cords which bound the thieves to their crosses, and mounting the ladder received their bodies in their arms and bore them away.

While they were busy Mary Magdalene went out to the centurion and said to him: |May we not even pay the last honors to our friend?|

|Alas,| said the centurion, |it is not within my power to permit this.|

Then came back Caiaphas and Annas and all the rulers of the Sanhedrin from the temple to Golgotha. Caiaphas, speaking as they approached, said, |It will be all the more delightful to see the body of this evil-doer cast into the pit of shame, because we have witnessed the destruction he has brought to pass within the temple.|

Annas answered, |What joy it would be if my eyes could see him torn limb from limb by wild beasts.|

|Ha,| said Caiaphas, as they saw the hangman bearing off the bodies of the thieves, |they are already being taken down. Now we shall soon see our ardent desires fulfilled.|

Hardly had Caiaphas and the priests approached the cross when from the other side there came Joseph of Arimathea and with him a servant of Pilate. The servant said to the centurion, |The governor has sent me to inquire of thee whether it can really be true that Jesus of Nazareth is already dead as this man has informed me.|

|It is so, indeed,| replied the centurion, pointing to the cross. |Look for yourself. Besides, for a complete certainty, his heart has been thrust through with a lance.|

Then said the servant, |I have orders to inform you that the body is to be delivered over to this man as a gift from Pilate.| And having said this he departed.

|Oh, blessed tidings!| cried the holy women still gathered together around the foot of the cross.

But the Jews hearing the message, waxed furious and the rabbi, speaking of Jesus, said to the other priests and rulers, |The traitor of the synagogue, he has fooled us again.|

|And spoiled our triumph,| said Annas.

But Caiaphas would not submit and said haughtily, |We shall not tolerate it that his body be laid anywhere else than in the grave of the transgressors.|

The centurion replied, |As the body is given to this man, it is obvious that he can bury it where and how he will. There is no disputing that.|

Then he said to the soldiers and executioners, |Men, our work is done. We will return.|

Then the hangmen gathered up their basket and their cord, their dice and the fragments of Christ's mantle and departed. With them went the centurion and his band, leaving Caiaphas and the Jews face to face with the holy women and their friends at the foot of the cross. The Jews were exceedingly wroth and raged amongst themselves at the centurion.

Annas cried out to Joseph of Arimathea, |Dost thou still persist in thy headstrong obstinacy? Art thou not ashamed to do honor to the very corpse of an executed malefactor?|

Joseph replied, |I indeed honor this noblest of men, the teacher sent from God, whom being innocent you have murdered.|

And Nicodemus added, |Envy and pride were the motives of his condemnation. The judge himself was forced to bear witness to his innocence, and swore he would have no part in his death.|

Then said Caiaphas furiously, |The curse of our law will destroy you, ye enemies of our fathers.|

The rabbi said, |Do not excite thyself about them, O, high priest; they are smitten with blindness.|

But Caiaphas, refusing to be silenced, cried, |Cursed are ye by the holy council. Deprived of all your honors, never more shall ye dare to take your seats in our midst.|

|Neither do we desire to do so,| said Nicodemus.

Then said Annas, |As the body is now in the hands of his friends, we must be on our guard, for this deceiver, while he was yet alive said that in three days he would rise again.|

The rabbi said, |They could easily practice a new deception on the people and make fresh trouble for us. His disciples might take his body away secretly and then give out that he had risen from the dead.|

|In that case,| said Caiaphas, |the last error would be worse than the first. Let us therefore go at once to Pilate and ask him for a guard of soldiers to keep watch over the grave until the third day.|

|A prudent thought,| cried Annas, and the rabbi added, |Thus their schemes will be foiled.| Then they departed to go to Pilate.

His enemies having left his friends alone around the cross, Nicodemus and Joseph set about taking down the body of Jesus. Bringing the ladders Joseph mounted on the shorter one that was placed in front, while Nicodemus ascended the longer one behind. Joseph had with him a roll of linen so long that after putting it around the body of Jesus, the ends hanging over the cross reached to the ground, where they were held by Simon of Bethany and Lazarus. Then, after taking off the crown of thorns Nicodemus took the pincers and began to pull out the nails from the hands of Jesus and bent the stiffening arms lovingly away from the cross. While they were thus engaged the Magdalen and Mary talked together. |At last,| said Mary Magdalene, |the madmen have departed. Be comforted, beloved mother, now we are alone with our friends; the mockery and blasphemy are past and a holy evening stillness surrounds us.|

Mary said, |O, my friends! What my Jesus suffered this mother's heart suffered with him. Now he has finished his work and entered into the rest of his Father. Peace also and trust from Heaven fills my soul.|

Mary Magdalene comforted her, saying, |He is not taken from us forever; that he promised.|

|O, noble men,| said Mary to Joseph and Nicodemus, |make haste and bring me the body of my beloved son.|

The Magdalene said, |Mother, wilt thou not rest a little here, while we prepare his resting place?| Then seating herself on a stone a little to the right of the cross, Mary waited while her friends made ready to receive the body of Jesus.

|Come, my companions,| said Salome, |and help me to prepare the winding sheet to receive the body.| They spread the linen on the ground at Mary's feet, placing one end upon her lap.

By this time Nicodemus had extracted the second nail which was in his left hand, and Joseph had taken the nail from the feet of Jesus. Then Simon and Lazarus, holding the ends of the linen roll, slowly lowered the body into the arms of Joseph of Arimathea.

|O, come,| said Joseph, |thou sweet and holy burden; let me take thee upon my shoulders.| Then with the body of Jesus resting upon his shoulders Joseph began to descend the ladder.

Nicodemus had already come down and awaited him at the foot of the cross. Spreading out his arms to receive the body of Jesus, he said, |Come thou holy body of my only friend, let me embrace thee.| Then they carried the body of Jesus and placed it on the linen winding sheet that was prepared for it on his mother's lap. Nicodemus, looking at his wounds sighed, |How the rage of thy enemies hath torn thy flesh.|

|Now,| said John, |the best of sons rests once more on the bosom of the best of mothers.|

Mary looked down upon the pale, blood-spotted face of Jesus, and then sighing heavily she said, |O, my Son, how is thy body covered with wounds!|

|Mother,| said John, |from these wounds flowed salvation and blessing for mankind.|

|See, mother,| said the Magdalene, who stood on her right hand, |how the peace of heaven rests in death upon his face.|

Then said Nicodemus who had brought some ointment, |Let us anoint him and then wrap him in this new linen.| He then poured the ointment into all the wounds on the body of Jesus.

|He shall be laid,| said Joseph of Arimathea, |in my new grave which I have prepared in the rock in my garden.|

But before they could wrap him in the winding sheets, Salome came near, and kneeling, raised to her lips the pierced left hand of Jesus saying, |O, best of Masters! One more loving tear upon thy lifeless body.|

Then came the Magdalene on the right hand, and kneeling down, stooped low and kissed the right hand, saying, |O, let me once more kiss the hand which has so often blessed me.|

Then said John, |We shall see him again.|

|Help me,| said Joseph to Nicodemus, |to bear him into the garden.|

|Blessed am I,| said Nicodemus, |that I may lay to rest the remains of him who was sent from God.| Then taking up the body they bore it away.

Then said John to Mary and the other woman, |Let us follow the dear, the divine friend.|

|It is the last honor,| said Mary, |that I can do my Jesus.|

* * * * * *

On the morning of the third day since Jesus had been crucified, before the sun had arisen, the four soldiers who were appointed to watch the grave sat outside the tomb where the body of Jesus had been laid. One of them awaking, cried, |Brothers, is not the night nearly over?| Then said Titus, |The sky is already reddening in the east; a beautiful spring day is beginning to dawn.|

Hardly had he said these words when there was a great earthquake. Pedius springing up exclaimed, |Immortal Gods! What a fearful shock!| |The earth is splitting,| cried Rufus. Then there was a peal of thunder. Titus called out, |Away from the rock; it is tottering; it is falling!| and the stone which had been rolled up into the mouth of the sepulcher fell down with a crash.

Jesus arose. For a moment he appeared at the mouth of the sepulchre, radiant in white apparel, while the watch fell on their faces to the ground crying out, |Ye gods, what do we see? A fire from heaven is blinding our eyes!|

Jesus then passed out through the door of the sepulchre and went down into the garden and out of sight.

After awhile the soldiers, who were lying prostrate on the ground said to each other, |Brother, what has happened to us?| Then said one of the soldiers, |I will not stop here another moment.|

But Titus looking up said, |The apparition is vanished,| and grasping his spear he rose to his feet saying, |Brothers, take heart; we have nothing to fear, as we have done no wrong.| They then stood up and saw the open door of the sepulchre from which the stone had fallen. Then said Titus, |The stone is rolled away from the grave. The grave is open.|

|Yes,| said another, |and the garden door is bolted.| Then they went with fear and trembling to the door of the sepulchre, and one looking in, said, |I do not see the corpse.|

Then another going farther inside said, |Here is the linen cloth lying in which the body was wrapped. He has gone out of the grave.|

Titus said, |He must have risen again, as no one came into the garden.|

Then said the third soldier, |It has happened thus as the priests feared.|

And Titus answered, |He has fulfilled his word!| |Now, what shall we do?| said the soldiers.

|There is nothing else to be done,| said one, |excepting to hasten to the Pharisees and tell them what has happened.|

All replied at once, |That we will,| and they hastened away.

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