The Ninth Hour

The “Cat” whistled through the air, all nine lashes landing angrily with a loud crack upon his exposed frame, each of them slowly removing the flesh with every flashing stroke.  One after one the shrieking sound of the scourge became louder and louder as the crowd that had gathered began to grow more silent with every fiery sting.  In sequence both cats alternated blow after blow allowing their masters time to rest between missions, hastily rubbing the blood from their arms and face, that dried into a crust of blistery like clusters.

The silence of the press became deafening as time after time he rose to his feet, to the bewilderment of his assailants.  The second team moved into position while the first two sat silently, deeply breathing as they replenished the air in their famished lungs.  Once again the cycle began with renewed vigor and impact.  A rush of cursing and swearing broke the stillness as one of the group pierced his hand through with a cluster of thorns that he was forming into some type of object, generating a thunder of laughter from his comrades which broke the focus of the undertaking for only seconds before resuming the task.

~

It had been a long night.  In my position under the command of Caesar I am well trained to observe and to respond accordingly.  The slight disturbance around the fire caught my attention as the roughly dressed man cursed with strong oaths before he bolted into the darkness beyond the flames.  The rooster began announcing the coming of a new day as I turned my attention back to our hostage.  With unquestionable loyalty to the jurisdiction of my commander, I resumed the humiliation of our blindfolded captive, mocking and striking him repeatedly.  Our next stop would be the overseer of this area where the hearing would begin.  As we made our way to the judgment hall, the thought of the weekend of the upcoming festivities of these people flashed before me and the hope of it being a quiet holiday slowly slipped away into nothing but a distant dream.

The angry crowd had already been summoned.  The tension hung in the air like a fog that collected on the skin until it formed a film of liquid hatred that seemed to encapsulate each soul in the courtyard.  This was no common prisoner.  At the release of one called Barabbas, my heart leaped with tension and excitement perceiving that this would be a day to remember; a day that would make any other seem nonchalantly dull.  There are times when the routine duties of the job are interrupted with dangerous adventure and this would be one of those times.

~

After the wreath of thorns was pressed upon his head and the spines deeply planted into his brow, his garment was roughly placed upon his torn and bloodstained body.  Completely weakened by the beating and with unstable footing, he was callously led back to the governor and to the accusers. The hall was torrid with humid, radiant heat from their bodies that produced a fever-like feeling in the atmosphere as they hissed with distain, sending waves of infectious vapors from their tightly clenched jaws and through their exposed yellow teeth.  “Crucify him! Crucify him!” was the chant that began to echo into the court as the judge and jury washed his hands before them all and then rendered the verdict.  The beam was placed upon his shoulders and the procession to the place of the Skull began.

~

When he fell under the weight of the timber the third time, I pushed my way through toward him.  He was thoroughly exhausted and laying in a battered heap in the dirt.  I stooped downward and lifted his head with the end of my spear.  Sunken deeply within the bruised and battered face I found in his eyes a passionate burning for life that nearly caused me to stumble backward and stirred something deep within me, something that I could not identify.  Such purpose, such fire, such intensity that seemed to contain joy:  a joy that was completely disembodied from the current event.  Standing upright again and refocusing on the job at hand, I commanded a bystander to take the load, “You!  In the name of Caesar, take up that timber!!”  The day must progress according to mandate.  This process must be completed before the impending religious tradition of these peculiar people begins.

~

After giving the order to lift him up, I stood back and watched as the heavy wooden implement of death fell with a thud into the hole in the earth.  Without a word he hung, nailed to the tree without as much as even uttering a profanity.  Around the foot of his cross was a small gathering, one of which I assume to be his mother as I heard him speak kindly to her and address her as such.  Then the quietness of the day turned to turmoil as all of nature seemed to invoke every blasphemous thing, focusing its evil eye upon the form suspended between the two.

A hot wind begin to howl and moan causing a coldness in my body, my skin tingling, each hair reaching outward toward some unseen hypnotic force.  The once clear sky was filled with black angry clouds that began to spit forth jagged spears of white hot light immediately followed by deafening claps of thunder.  Darkness sunk upon us all.  Between the fiery displays of lightning, I was able to see him twisting and jerking with every lash of light, every crash of the curse as if he were the intended object of its madness.  Tears began to flow from his dark, deeply sunken eyes.  Through his split and swollen lips, and looking into the shadows I heard him speak something about being “forsaken”.

~

The preparation had begun.  Masses of people gathered around the temple, proudly leading their select male lamb to the court of the clerics for scrutiny, only the purely perfect being selected.  With the earlier morning business put behind them, the priests of the temple, golden cups in hand readied themselves to catch the blood of the offering, for transport to the altar of sacrifice.  No one seemed to notice the gathering of darkness in the eastern sky.  The event taking place on the “Skull” outside of the city gates was nothing more than an inevitable task that must have been accomplished prior to the holy day.  Family after family approached the priests, bringing with them the token to be taken and slain for their acquittal.

Suddenly, as if by some silent order the entire temple gathering ducked in unison as a single bolt of lightning flashed above their heads, the smell of brimstone filling their nostrils.  Above Calvary the clouds had gathered imparting to each person the impression that all of creation was pouring out its wrath upon that cursed one who was led to his demise only several hours ago.  The wind changed directions and blew with hot gusts from Golgotha just as the first libation was drained of its life’s blood at precisely the ninth hour.  The earth began to shake as the blood filled the cups of the priests and was poured out upon the altar that ran red and curdling with what once carried life.

~

The ravaging wind came with a gust and I felt a splattering of what I thought was rain although the ground was completely dry.  Looking down upon my arm that still held the hammer were droplets of blood that had been carried from him upon whom I gazed in fearful wonder.  Then with one mighty expense of energy, somewhere deep within the earth a last and awful display of anger burst forth as the ground began to shake violently causing me to drop to my knees; when at the same time I could hear his voice above the roaring of the cosmos, “FINISHED!!!”  His head finally lay forward and down.  As he surrendered his life, the clouds parted revealing the sun that once was enveloped with darkness, but now has broken through victorious with brilliant beams of radiant light.  Truly, this man was the Son of God!  Somehow I knew that nothing would ever be the same.

~

It has been eight years since that day and it is still just as real in my memory.  In a vision, at the ninth hour, I received instructions to send for a man named Simon Peter.  Today, after three days I finally hear the approach of the messengers, and with excitement I welcome them into the courtyard with my guest.  What!?  After all these years could this be him?  Yes and without doubt this is the very same one I saw by the fire that awful night.  The one who fled into the darkness, now here to speak to me about the God Whose Son I put to death that day.  Praise be to God and His Son!  Today salvation has come to my home!

James Bello

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