The demon’s voices were thick: thicker than the blackness of the night, thicker than the clouds shrouding the stars, thicker than the death itself. They laughed at the sight of that broken body: the man on the tree. One beam tall, one beam wide. One arm right, one arm left hung gnarled, grasping at the mists floating beneath them. Hundreds of voices spilled from hundreds of mouths: shouting, jeering, laughing. Demons shrieked out from the many faces: faces he came to save, people he came to free.
The devils inside them approved. His enemies caused the pain while friends shared in it. Crying, weeping, screaming: clawing at the ground in their grief. Blood mixed with water dripping down his side. It mixed with the fog, crawling through the inky black before wetting the dust of the ground.
“King of the Jews.” That is what the sign said, that sign hammered into those rickety beams, but it meant nothing to the man hanging there. No label could hold him down; no name could cause him pain. He had heard his true name from above thousands of times… but not today. Today, his father was silent. The clouds hung like a thick blanket blocking him from father, lover, life. Sin weighed heavy on his shoulders, the heaviest weight he’d ever had to bear.
“My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” It was a cry, a plea, coming from cracked lips and a broken heart.
Jesus lifted his face. The shadow of death hung heavy, pushing him down: anvils on shoulders. Finally, through the pain, through the fire of blood ripping a course through his head, he managed to peer at the crowd that had formed. Through beaten, bruised, burning slits – slits that were once eyes – he saw them.
Spittle hit his face, stinging eyes, blurring vision, cutting his heart. Through the creamy mess he saw the demon. It peered out at him from a woman’s face, eyes glowing, piercing the surrounding darkness. The entire hoard was depicted in her eyes. The Son of God was dying. Father God was absent. Salvation broken. The demons rallied together, toasting their good fortune… but Jesus saw the pain behind their eyes. He saw the broken soldiers rolling dice, fighting for his clothes. The jeering and hooting of the crowd eclipsed the true pain beneath their masks. Some wore their pain openly, weeping for his death, his pain, his crucifixion: the hanging of an innocent man.
“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” The sky remained silent, that thick blanket of death sucking up his words and spitting them back in his face. The crowd did not know him – they did not understand – but Jesus knew the crowd. He saw murder in the demon’s eyes. The woman shrieked at him. Helpless, trapped in a body that would not bend to her will. A little girl sat weeping and dejected deep inside her, deep beneath the demon. The girl cried, shook, pulled at her hair to block out the images of what she had done. A demon tortured her by day with images of her nightly prowl, images of the killing.
“No! It’s not me!” The girl screamed at herself, convulsing, bodily functions attempting to shake off the memories.
I know, my child. Jesus tried to speak to her, but she was not listening. The demon overtook her, screaming, mouth frothing, lips spitting again at the man on the cross.
One of the Roman soldiers stood, holding the royal garment his dice had just won. The purple cloth was streaked with sweat and stained with blood: the remains of the beaten king who had once been draped in the fabric. Jesus saw the cloth and the lie it was, saw the man and the lie on his face. A shadowy figure spun around him, laughing and jeering with the rest. The demon whispered in his ear, prodded his arms, deceived him into this life he now knew. A family man at home. A loving man. A different man when eyes were watching, when his own personal demon came for him.
“Sssssscared little boy…” the demon taunted. “Nothing but a child.” The voice was hollow and dead, echoing through gaping ear canals and into his broken heart. He fought against the demon with the only weapon he had, proving the voice wrong. He slapped the demon across the face with his authority, power, and unrelenting ferocity. The whip of nine tails slashed the air, slashed the flesh, ripped at the royal garment. The taunting demon drove him to such an act, chided him until he had to prove himself. One lash, two lashes, three. The demon laughed, circling around tortured man and fallen saviour.
“Again!” It shrieked. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, the lashes continued to come, shredding skin, shredding cloth, and breaking hearts. The broken saviour now peered down with pity at the broken man, the man shaking that shredded garment, his mask depicting joy but heart depicting shame.
Demons rushed in and out, laughing at the mighty throng that gathered there. Jesus pressed his legs tight against the tree, wincing at the pain shooting up them from holes in his feet. He sucked in a breath, air mixing with bile and blood on the way down. His hands burned as the breath was released, pressure moving from feet to hands: one holey appendage to the next.
“IT IS FINISHED!” His voice was surprisingly strong against the backdrop of death. It boomed from shredded lips, spilling from the sky with a crack of thunder. The ground shook; lightning flared; the crowd fell silent. The sky began to cry, Father God grieving his son. Rain poured forth from gaping holes in the night, drowning out all the silent voices and all the raging thoughts. The mountainside became a soupy mess: mess of mud, mess of grief, mess of death.
All at once the demons left. A woman dropped to her knees, adding to the wet spilling from the skies. Where a demon once stood, a little girl now cowered: lost, broken, alone. Her clothes soaked up the mud, face splashed into the pool of grief, leaving a mask of its own. A soldier fell to his knees, face tired, heart dead. He stared at the man, turned carcass, on the tree. With royal garment in his hand and lashes before his eyes, the memories were too fresh. There was nothing left to say, nothing left to do, no demon left to fight.
Jesus’ blood soaked into the muddy mess, working like water-colour strands against the flow. It pierced the ground, spilling through layer after layer after layer. The fire of earth’s core approached the bloody mess that fell. The host of demons watched it, flew with it through the layers. They laughed at each other with glee, filling their hearts with fire. Earth’s core bubbled and spat, giant waves of lava warring with each other for the first lick of a king’s blood, the first taste of Jesus’ death: the failed Saviour of the world.
The host of demons gathered, feet burning on the fiery floor. Satan stood on a great dais: steps formed of molten rock, throne cracked with age. A giant goblet stood at the centre, defying the decay around it. Defying death. Light from the surrounding fire bounced off that glassy surface, the obsidian polished to a shine.
The Devil raised his arms, remnants of charred cloth hanging from bony limbs. A wave of hot death shrieked from the pool below, seemingly directed by gesture alone. It burned his fingertips as it fell, fiery pleasure coursing through his body.
“It is finished.” Satan spat the words. He mocked that form on the tree, laughing at the failure. “It is finished.” He croaked, but the sound defied his charred throat, wreaking havoc on the surrounding cavern. The tremor of God’s remorse punched through the ceiling, leaving a gaping hole of grief behind. Demons clawed at the forming canyon, desperate for their prize. With the tremor came the blood, filling up that blackened darkness in the sky of Hell itself. The red ink gushed forth, a cascade of death from above. It filled the obsidian bowl, spilling over edges of the finely crafted fountain.
With goblets drawn, Satan’s minions rushed for the alter. Every last drop was sought out, all of Hell drowning in that moment of victory. The freakish brew filled cups and throats, demons toasting and dancing in praise. The Devil laughed with glee, his eyes darkened with lust. Every drop of blood spoke of promise: the promise of freedom, the promise of victory. God tried his best, and failed. The Saviour came. The Saviour died. His blood rushed down the Devil’s throat.
Three days. No sleep. No peace. The partying was a glorious cacophony in his ears. Long had they fought. Long had they cringed under the weight of Heaven. Now, the Son of God died: day one. The people cried: day two. The demons won: day three.
His body was placed inside the rock. A giant stone sealed his fate. Day one: the soldiers sat alone, guarding his place of death. Day two: the stone sat alone, immovable, defeated.
He guarded the place, protected the body, but who protected him? The corpse within was empty, but what of the man without? What of the Roman soldier standing duty by that giant stone? Tears fell in his heart, streaming down the outer surface, but his face remained dry. The demon came for him again on that third day.
“Failure!” It screamed, laughing through blood-laden lips. “It is finished.” The demon mocked Jesus, mocked the dead, mocked the living. The soldier had nothing left to give. No more tears to cry… but his mask began to crack. The demon lashed him in the face, dressed in purple robes. He whipped him once, twice; three times the torture came.
“You killed him!” The demon laughed, striking him again. The royal robe was tattered, blood-caked, finished. The man once beneath it was tattered, blood-caked, finished. The demon taunted again from within that purple robe, wrapped inside those tassels of deception. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, the lashes continued to come, shredding skin, shredding mask, exposing the man beneath. Finally, the soldier cracked.
Dry tears fought with wet blood on his face: head in hands, hands clawing the mask beneath them. One crack, two cracks, three. The man’s grief shook him like that mighty tremor of three days past. Those all-encompassing convulsions wracked his body, ripped his skin, tore giant caverns in his mask. At first they lay black and empty, like that death of three days past, but then they began to fill. Red streaks covered over the black of death and white of bone, the man’s cries of pain piercing the night air.
One more crack.
There was no more mask: no more room for cracks therein. This final crack came from the sky, shooting down with power from on high. First the skies split apart, the rupture filling with a shout not unlike three days past. The ground shook. The tears fell. That scene of death was repeating itself, tears of God pouring from the heavens. Lightning shot from cracks in the sky, causing another crack below.
One more crack.
The electric fire of God struck that mighty stone set in place by human hands. The sealed tomb was no more, defied by hands of God. The giant stone fell apart, one piece at a time. One of the soldiers fled in fear, but the other remained – the one with a cracked face and broken heart. The ground sucked in his convulsions, spilling them about the place, before relaxing with a sigh of relief.
All at once, the world relaxed. The sun shot through those heavenly blankets above. The soldier stood on shaky legs. He cringed against the pain as he walked to the open chasm, the open tomb, the discarded rock. Where there should have been a body – rotting with decay – where there should have been a man – dead – where there should have been a failed saviour… there was nothing. Peering into the maw of that mighty stone, there was nothing but darkness, the sun driving it away. Light cascaded through the shadows, brightening up the world, brightening up the tomb, brightening up the soldier.
He turned to shrieks of pain. His demon knelt in purple robes: nothing but tassels left on its back. The sun shot beams of power through its shadowed form. It screamed. It riled. Convulsed. The demon disappeared. Nothing but purple threads remained. As shadow and cloth fell away, the sun revealed itself. Those shafts of light did not come from the sun above, but Son that lived.
Jesus, the Son of God, stood before the soldier. There was no purple robe. There was no dead body. Holes in hands and feet showed where he had been hung, where he had been pierced. Stripes on his back showed where he had been whipped.
“I’m sorry.” The soldier fell to his knees. It was the demon, he wanted to say. His plea for forgiveness spilled from his eyes with new-found tears.
Jesus approached the man. He knelt before him, hand resting on shoulder. The soldier looked up, seeing tears in Jesus’ eyes. “I forgive you,” the Saviour said. “You knew not what you were doing.” The words seemed to come from all around him, swirling around the place. They floated down from on-high: from the mouth of God. They touched the lips of Jesus like feathers on a lake. They touched the heart of the soldier: a heavy burden lifted.
“King of the Jews.” He had pegged that sign above this man’s head, but it was not true. A new sign hung, hammered in by the voice of God. “Saviour of the world.”