He was awakened by a bird’s song welcoming the dawn. Opening his eyes he saw the morning’s purple shades slowly lightening. That bird was joined by others filling the morning air with a joyous song that made his heart beat with happiness. He smiled as the disc of the sun broke the horizon filling the sky with blue broken by orange clouds. The cool of the night gave way to the warmth of light spreading along the rocky ground. It was a morning like no other he had experienced as the world around him burst into life.
What a difference from just two days before, he thought.
His bed had been the rocky ground just off the path leading out of town. A flat rock had been his pillow; his mattress the broken-rock covered sand.
Why am I sleeping here? The thought slipped into his mind. Ah, now I remember.
Last evening there had come a storm like no other he had known in his ten years. It was as if the heavens had been at war with the earth. A deep and terrible darkness had covered the land. The weight of the air oppressed every living thing as darkness shut out all vestige of the sun. It was rumored that graves had opened and spirits had been released into that darkness. Their swirling presence in the area had driven many mad with fear. There was even talk that the veil of the temple had been ripped asunder. Everyone ran to their homes desperately seeking shelter from the evil in the darkness.
His father, in fear and anger, had gone straight to the wine. He drank in excess all the while ranting about the preacher.
“He was supposed to end this oppression!” he screamed at his wife. “He was the messiah, they said!”
His anger spilled over into his family. Joshua’s mother received the back of his hand when she tried to pry the wine from his fingers.
“Get away, woman!” he screamed. He slapped her to the floor. Her hands rose over her face to ward off any further beating. He ignored her as his words bit through the air.
“The messiah be damned! He’s just another criminal tacked to a cross for the public to heap abuse up. How could we have been so foolish as to believe?”
The man’s ten year old son, Joshua, cowered behind a table in the corner as his dad looked around for someone else to bully.
While hiding in the corner, Joshua thought back to the week before. He had been in the crowd that rejoiced at the city gate. Palm branches waved in the air held by men and women yelling,
“HOSANNA! ALLELUIA! KING OF KINGS! PRINCE OF PEACE! MESSIAH!”
People lined up in front of the man sitting on a small donkey as it edged through the crowd at the city gate. They lay palm branches in the road along with their coats and garments to soften the path of the animal bearing such a sacred burden.
He remembered how the excitement in the air was so intense that Roman soldiers began to gather in groups for fear a riot might ensue.
The man in white looked out over the crowd smiling upon them. Many rushed just to touch this white garment. The twelve men behind him quickly came to his rescue pushing them aside. He said something to them. His words were lost in the din of the crowd but not to his followers. They bowed slightly and returned to their place behind the donkey. The crowds were growing. The palm branches held aloft wafted currents of air which warded off the heat of the afternoon. His path was littered with them as he rode past, the crowd moving with his progress.
Joshua stayed behind as the crush of the crowd was a struggle for one so small. His face was lit with a smile, however, because the man riding atop the donkey had looked directly at him. His face glowed with an unearthly light that seemed to settle on Joshua filling him with a joy he had never experienced. It had left him entranced.
What a day it had been. The excitement had been overwhelming. Upon his arrival home his father had met him at the door sweeping him up and around as he danced to an inner happiness. He had never seen his father in such a state of mind. His father had always been a man of even temperament. His daily job of wood working kept him busy all the hours of light and often into the night. He had made a good income selling crosses to the Roman oppressors. He hated them as all the Jews hated them but he was very happy to accept their money for his handiwork.
“These crosses bear the scum of the earth,” he said to his family often enough. “Why shouldn’t I profit from the death of criminals? They are justly punished in the Roman court of laws. I am happy to provide the means of execution for the scum of the earth.”
Joshua agreed with him in light of his understanding of life around him. His father was the wisest of men. His principles were becoming his son’s as is natural. Yet, his father never seemed to be a happy man. His enjoyment of life came from the wine skin he brought home each evening. It was a hard life but this old man had come to terms with the difficulties he bore with the help of the fermented grape.
On this night after the preacher had entered the city gate to praises never heard before, his father was a jubilant man celebrating life to its maximum without the smell of wine on his breath.
“Joshua! Joshua!” He sang. “The day has come! Our life will be filled with milk and honey! Our oppression is over. No more crosses will I make. No more punishments will be meted out! The world is going to change. The messiah has come. He has come upon a donkey through the front gate. God has answered our prayers!” He danced around singing with Joshua aloft in his hands. The continual movement began to upset his stomach and he asked to be put down.
“Certainly my boy!” he said dropping him to the earth floor. Then he grabbed his wife whose smile was the biggest the boy had ever seen. The night continued with celebration into the wee hours.
His father and mother had never been happier. However, that night’s joy faded as one day followed another. The week wore on without the trumpets from above. The Romans were not swept aside. Daily life plodded on and the leaders of Jews began to question this man about his status. No, the week bore no overthrow of the oppressors. The week continued with the Jewish leaders questions. They began to debunk the claims the people had bestowed upon this young man entering by the front gate. The doubts about his being the messiah grew daily amongst general population. The preacher did not call the people to take arms for rebellion. No, he spoke to the people in a quiet voice extolling love, not only of one’s neighbor but of one’s enemies as well.
Is it any wonder the people who had welcomed him as the messiah began to turn on him? The hopes he had come to fulfill were slowly dashed into the dirt. The oppression of the army became more threatening. The dreams of the people once again ruling vanished. The feeling of exultation dwindled. The leaders brought the peoples’ expectations back to earth by showing this itinerant preacher to be just a man, a man like any other man. With that revelation the hatred of the people began to grow. There is no hatred as strong as love grown sour. The love they had gladly poured out on him for the promise he offered simply vanished in that week. There was an ominous cloud gathering. Only a few believed now. Those few wept when he was arrested. The majority felt it was deserved simply because he did not meet their vision of him
They watched him as he appeared before Pilate. They shouted, “Give us Barabbas!” when Pilate offered them a choice. Then they shouted, “Crucify him!” when Pilate asked what should be done with Jesus who called himself King of the Jews.
Thus, the week that had begun with such jubilation as the country had not seen since David ruled came to an end.
That was yesterday when the earth seemed to punctuate the entire week with an end more spectacular than anything witnessed by anyone of this generation. The elements had been the back drop to his father’s drunken anger. An anger that frightened Joshua so much he had fled into the night. He stayed away, fearing his father’s wrath, for more than two days. He knew his mother would be worried but he had done it before when the nights had been filled with too much wine. His father’s drinking had been bad often but none as bad as this. His father had never been so bitter about life. To escape the boy fled into the night.
He awoke to a morning so wonderful that he took his time rising from his bruising rock strewn bed. The light was more luminescent than he’d seen before. The air was purer in some way as he breathed deeply. The plant life amongst the broken boulders was more lush. The sound of birds was more exotic. Insects buzzing seemed to exude joy into the warm air. The newly awakening day seemed completely alive. It filled his heart to bursting.
He began to walk just to be a part of everything around him. A palm branch lay in the dust its fronds were brown since it was cut the week before. Still, he picked it up and waved it whispering to himself, hosanna, hosanna. He was caught up in the memory of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It didn’t matter what his father thought. His memory was of a heart bursting with joy and the man on the donkey smiling at him.
He continued along waving the palm branch and whispering hosanna. Behind him the clatter of sandals pounded toward him. He turned to see the cause of the noise when the man running pushed him aside.
“Mind, boy,” the man shouted. Joshua stumbled when a second man ran quickly behind the first.
“Move, boy!” he shouted. They both disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.
Joshua got up still holding his branch. He looked after the two men.
“What was their hurry?” he asked himself.
His thoughts were interrupted by terrible sounds up ahead beyond that big rock. He ran to it. Peeking around it he saw a group of boys beating a small lamb that must have strayed. Its bleating was answered by the boys’ curses as they pounded it with clubs they wielded. It was covered in its own blood. Falling onto its side it bleated one last. The boys continued to beat on it with their clubs until their fun was ended. One of them kicked the poor creature to see if there was life in it. Satisfied, they began to walk away. The last boy gave one final blow to the lifeless form.
When they were out of sight, Joshua ran over to the dead creature. He began to cry over this lifeless thing. To see a life extinguished so brutally was too much for him. Tears came in answer to all the hurt and pain he himself had suffered over the prior week. As he wept a shadow fell over him. It wasn’t like any other shadow he had seen. It appeared to exude a light richer than that around him. Surrounding the shadow was a preternatural brightness which made him look up.
Above him stood the man who had ridden through the gate on the donkey.
Joshua was startled. This was the man who had been nailed to one of this father’s crosses. He had died on that cross. It had been on everyone’s lips that he had died just as the storm blew across the country.
“Fear not, little one,” said the man.
“Are you a ghost?” asked Joshua.
“I am nothing you should fear, my son.”
The boy settled down inside then glanced at the dead lamb on the road.
“Some boys killed it for no other reason other than meanness.” His words mingled with his tears.
The figure stooped beside the boy. He placed his hand on his shoulder. From this hand Joshua felt warmth filling him with the joy he had known while watching this man, who had been crucified, entering the gate to such worship as the city had not given in centuries. He had been crucified but here he was beside him speaking to him.
“Your tears show a tender heart, young one. That is what one must have to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I saw that in you upon our first encounter.”
Not knowing what to say he blurted out,
“Is there anything that can be done for this poor lamb? I know he is dead but so were you, weren’t you? You must know the secret to restoring life.”
“You are wise beyond your years, lad. If you pray for him and believe then, yes, something can be done.” The man placed his hand on the creature as the boy closed his eyes and prayed.
“Will God hear my prayer?” he asked opening his eyes. He was alone with the body of the sheep.
Joshua stood frantically looking around but saw no one. At his feet the lamb shook its head. It gathered its feet beneath and stood. He looked into the eyes of the lamb but saw only a bewildered creature blinking back at him. The boy fell to his knees and embraced the small fleecy animal. His tears rolled from his eyes and he smiled.