I lean against the empty doorframe, across the hall and at a diagonal from another empty door, where my Son sits. I can’t see much of the room except for Him and John, who has his head propped against Jesus’ chest. What does His heartbeat sound like right now? Fierce but steady and full, I’ll bet—like the set of His jaw and the look in His eyes right now.
A platter of lamb bones sits on a table behind me, spreading the savory aroma across the room. I hold a piece of one of the bones, broken off and marrow exposed, grease slicking my fingers; there’s meat left on it, too much to throw away, so I peel off a strip and pop it into my mouth. It’s dense but soft under my teeth. Still, my jaw aches: no matter how many times I unlock it, it winds up clenching again.
After I swallow, I stretch my jaw hard enough that it pops, and a spark of pain crackles up my temple. I snag my inner lip between my teeth to stifle a wince.
That’s nothing compared to what will happen tonight. Tomorrow.
Splitting in half and bleeding out now would be easier than watching it happen to Him.
God, just get me through this with Him. Get Us through this.
Breathe, Mary. In through your nose for seven seconds. Out for seven seconds.
I set the lamb bone on the table and refocus on Him, His voice a mumble from where I am. John sits up as Jesus reaches across the table and comes back with a loaf of flatbread. Though I can’t see from here, it should still be steaming—I pulled it from the fire about ten minutes ago; the flour powders the skirt of my tunic.
A chill runs across my skin, a gentle fire and breeze flickering in my gut as He speaks over it. I can’t hear the words. But the Spirit that put Him inside me is here.
He lifts a cup next, the life-giving prickle never leaving the skin on the back of my neck. I finally pick up the last words. “Do this in memory of me.”
A knife sinks into my stomach: that’s what it feels like when He says “memory.” Because He’s going to leave soon.
Not yet. I swallow the knot in my throat. He said in three days He’d be back.
I stop myself before I start to imagine what will take Him from me for those three days.
I watch, blinking away the blur that keeps creeping into my eyes, until they all sing a hymn and rise. The rest of them exit first. Jesus tells them He’ll catch up. His eyes are thick with sheen as He approaches me. The single thread holding my heart together breaks.
“I’m going, Mom,” He says.
I stand up off the wall and wrap my arms around Him. His heartbeat pounds against my chest, like it's trying to break free and find safety inside me again.
“You can do this, Baby” I whisper.
He’s always loved the olive garden; that’s where He is now. I wish I was high enough up to see it, but the rooftop I sit on, my knees curled to my chest, only gives me a view of squares and squares of more buildings.
The moon gleams down over me. The sky is smoky black. My blood aches as it flushes through my body, and my ribs twinge as I breathe.In seven seconds, out seven seconds.
This is His choice. This is my choice. People will die—forever—if He doesn’t do this. His Father knows what He’s doing.
God, He’s Your Son. He’s my Son.
I gag back a rush of nausea. Sweat soaks into the underarms of my tunic and rushes down my face, and I wipe a slick layer of it away with my wrist.
If this is what I feel, He’s in agony.
The sun blazes straight overhead, burning the peeling skin on my cheekbones and nose. The street is dry and rough beneath my feet. My Son stands in the middle of it, His arms strapped to a crossbeam.
Thick rope bites into Him at His elbows, belting the splinter-spiked block of wood across His shoulders. His fingers are purple and look ready to burst at the nails, and His neck, above the beam, is shredded. His tunic is dyed red. His knees are ready to buckle; each footstep under them is stamped in blood.
My heart isn’t beating. I’m not breathing.
Jesus’ legs crumple beneath Him. He hits the ground flat.
I bolt toward Him. My shoulder clips something hard—a bystander, I think, and maybe a yelp and a curse follows, but I can’t tell, I can’t see anything around me, the noise is a hum, all that’s there is my Son and the distance between us.
The Roman behind Him, a kid of twenty-five at the most, bites his lip. The handle of his whip glistens with sweat as he pulls the leather strand back. My foot slips on a jagged rock and splits open. I don’t feel it. The young Roman torques his arm forward.
I get to my Son and drop to one knee. Leather splits air with a crack. My tunic yanks back. Warm fluid dribbles down my shoulder, a line of fire tracing down. The Roman young man backs off a step like he didn’t mean to hit me.
Jesus lies with His cheek pressed to the dirt, thorns scraping against the dust and breaking. His lip is torn open, His jaw swollen shut. Bruising chars the skin under His eyes and across the bridge of His nose. He’s not breathing well—not with that hit He took.
“Get out of the way.” The young guard snaps his whip in the air, blue eyes surrounded by dots of sweat.
“Breathe,” I tell Jesus. “Baby, breathe.”
He can’t see me—the crossbeam is pinning Him to the ground—but His ribs flinch, and a stunted gasp of air jerks into Him. I wedge my callused hands under the wooden weight and heave up, my shoulders burning with a weight like sacks of flour and buckets of water. And my Son. My Son, that weight I’ve always loved in my arms, that weight I would die for.
We manage to get Him to sit on His heels, balancing the bar of wood. Its sides are so frayed, a chill rushes down me at the thought of each sliver sinking into His open wounds. He lifts His brown eyes to mine. Paths of water cut down His face, slicing through the blood, identical to the paths cutting down mine.
I would take this from You. If we could trade places right now, I would.
The Roman adjusts His grip on the handle. This time, he swings true. I bite through my lip, blood splashing across my tongue, as the hook rips across my Son’s back. Jesus’ neck convulses in a smothered scream.
I want to stand between Him and that guard and not move; I want to find a dagger and cleave open the ropes holding Him there; I want to take Him home and dab wine and oil across every one of the gashes in Him, sitting beside Him until He’s able to fall asleep.
That’s not what He wants. That’s not what His Father wants. And I’m with them. No matter what it costs.
Fire searing inside me, I slide my hands under the crossbeam again. “Come on. On three.”
He nods, and I think He mouths, I love you, Mom. It’s hard to tell through His bloodied lips and the fierce water blur in my eyes.
I love You, Baby.
More than my life.
We haul Him to His feet, with me taking on as much of the weight as I can. The young Roman watches us, not quite blank, his eyebrows slightly furrowed, a barely noticeable pinch at the corners of those sky-colored eyes.
For him. For this kid. To save his life and the life of every other person God has ever created and every will create.
I hold my Son’s face in my hands, His blood trickling down my wrist and beading at my elbows.
“I’m right here.” My voice splits as a fresh pair of tears drains down His face. “I promise.”