The story, it seemed, was over. Convicted of sedition, condemned to death by crucifixion, nailed to a cross on a hill called Golgotha, Jesus of Nazareth had endured all that he could.
Jesus, suffering and approaching the end, repeated a verse of the 22nd Psalm, a passage familiar to first-century Jewish ears.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” There was a final, wordless cry. And then silence. He was dead.
In the dread and fear of the arrest and Crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples had scattered; each gone separate ways. They had expected victory, not defeat.
If Jesus were, as they believed, the Jewish Messiah, then His great achievement would be the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on Earth, an age marked by the elimination of evil, the dispensation of justice and the general resurrection of the dead.
Instead, on the Friday of the Passover, at just the moment they were looking for the arrival of a kind of Heaven on Earth, Jesus, far from leading the forces of light to triumph, died a criminalâ€™s death.
Imagine being among the disciples or followers watching the dread unfold, what could you have done?
Of his followers, only the women stayed as Jesus was taken from the cross, wrapped in a linen shroud and placed in a tomb carved out of the rock of a hillside.
And so begins the story of Christianity-with confusion, not clarity; with fear, not hope; with rejection, not accommodating. Simply put, Christianity is a story that began with suffering not ease.
For Jesus to become Christ-the birth of Christianity, he had to endure through a period of suffering. And he did.
He was beaten, paraded in blood, a heavy cross on His shoulder, nailed and crucified on the cross with criminals.
In all this, surprisingly, he remained submissive.
He never defended his innocence at trial, never resisted his crucifixion, and even turned to those nailing his hands to the wood on the cross and forgave them, and loved them.
This is not to advance that people should not stand up for what they feel is wrong within societies.
Rather, the Christian faith is rooted in the spirit of giving in to suffering-as symbolised by Jesus, and again, living a life of self denial and being of great service to those in want.
Writing for Newsweek, US weekly magazine, Andrew Suvillian captures well the doctrines of Jesus.
“It is not the supernatural claims that, fused with politics and power, gave successive generations of wars, inquisitions, pogroms, reformations, and counterreformations.
“Jesusâ€™ doctrines were the practical commandments, the truly radical ideas that immediately leap out in the simple stories he told and which he exemplified in everything he did.
“Not simply love one another, but love your enemy and forgive those who harm you; give up all material wealth; love the ineffable Being behind all things, and know that this Being is actually your truest Father, in whose image you were made.
“Above all: give up power over others, because power, if it is to be effective, ultimately requires the threat of violence, and violence is incompatible with the total acceptance and love of all other human beings that is at the sacred heart of Jesusâ€™ teaching,” he writes.
Today Christianity is heading otherwise. Ross Douthat in his unsparing new book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, argues that Christians today embrace a gospel of prosperity, which teaches that living a Christian life will make you successful and rich.
It seems no accident to me that so many Christians now embrace materialist self-help rather than ascetic self-denial.
Given this crisis, it is no surprise that the fastest-growing segment of belief among many is Secular Humanism, which has leapt in popularity in the new millennium. Nor is it a shock that so many have turned away from organized Christianity and toward “spirituality,” co-opting or adapting the practices of meditation or yoga, or wandering as lapsed Christianity in an inquisitive spiritual desert.
Of course, the thirst for God is still there. How could it not be, when the profoundest human questionsâ€”Why does the universe exist rather than nothing? How did humanity come to be on this remote blue speck of a planet? What happens to us after death?â€”remain as pressing and mysterious as theyâ€™ve always been?
Surely, for believers across the country who have been re-enacting the Passion, contemplating the cross and celebrating the Resurrection during the Holy Week ending today, it is important to meditate the power of suffering in the Christian faith.