Dark lay the night, heavy and still with waitsomeness. No light shone, either upon the earth or indeed within the great expanse of the heavens. A dark mist lay tangled amongst the treetops, and here and there it lay like unwholesome pools of shadow upon the ground, and in the sky a cloud veiled the stars and smothered the moon, so not even a whisper of her glory was let fall.
In a garden, dark beneath the dark sky, He knelt, praying. Olive trees hung down their branches in foreboding, and a chill wind whispered their trepid leaves. A muttering tumult tore at the leaves in the form of a cold wind that clutched still at the chill of winter rather than turning itself warmer into a spring wind. Loud was the clamour amongst the olive branches, but about the Man, the world was still. His voice murmured, and blood like precious rubies lay upon his fevered body. His hands were tight-gripped upon each other, and he bowed His head upon the cold surface of a rock, which was His only solace in that hour.
The wind touched Him, laying cold fingers upon His drawn and sorrowful face, and into His ear it whispered in frozen tones, “How much do you love mankind, O God? How much?”
He cried out, “Father, not My will, but Thine be done!”
There came a multitude now, coming forth from the valley and passing into the garden wherein He prayed, forsaken by all. In their hands they bore torches, and the flames cast menacing shadows upon them, bathing their figures in an evil glow. In their eyes, the light of hell seemed to shine.
Forward they came, and drew up to Him, Who rose from His agony to stand before them. One came forth from that madding multitude and stepped to His side, lying a hand upon His shoulder and laying a bitter kiss upon His cheek. That kiss lay cold upon His face, and it whispered traitorously to Him, “How much do you love mankind, O God? How much?”
The Man turned His sorrowful eyes unto the traitor, and in a voice of utmost pain said softly, “Dost thou betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”
Bound He was led away, and the crowd spat upon Him and struck their hands upon Him, jeering and mocking Him in a manner most contumely. He was hastened before judges and bound to a post like a criminal, and before a jury of liars and unbelievers He was judged. As they accused against Him, He was silent. The clamour of their voices, lifted in false witness against Him, rang like the shrieks of devils unto the vaulted ceiling, and fell resounding into His ears. The echoes of these hellish accusations whispered and mocked at Him, saying, “How much do You love mankind, O God? How much?”
In those echoes the voice of the high priest adjured Him by the living God to make answer, whether He was Christ the Son of God. Then He made answer to these liars and false judges, saying, “Thou hast said it. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming upon the clouds of heaven.”
Breast were beaten, and He was accused of blasphemy, and the people raveled against Him like so many wolves, and the echoes beat in His ears, “How much, O God? How much?”
Before the tribunal He was judged unjustly, and into a courtyard He was taken and His garment were stripped from Him. To a pillar He was bound, and whips were lifted, and the scourges lashed and curled about His shoulder and tore at His body, and a crimson cloak of His own sacred Blood enfolded Him. With each strike upon His flesh the scourges hissed, “How much do You love mankind, O God? How much?”
And in the agony of His tortures He cried aloud in His spirit, and prayed, “Father, forgive them.”
From the pillar He was released, and upon a cruel stone He was thrown, all in the sharpest torment of agony, and about Him was wrapped a tattered cloth of royal purple. As it sat in mockery of kingliness upon His torn Body, it was stained red with the sacred dye of His humanity.
He sat in anguish, His breath hot and quick in His throat, and about Him He saw faces, faces with mouths spilling forth cruel laughter, faces that were lit with hellish glee, and in whose eyes dwelt devils of malice. The people mocked Him, falling upon their knees before Him. Into His bound hands was thrust a reed, for a sceptre. But, “a crown!” they shrieked. “The King needs a crown!” and thorny stalks were plucked and twined into a cap, and upon His bowed and submissive Head was this mockery thrust, the thorns anchoring deep into His flesh, His Blood standing upon His brow like jewels. He was bruised and tortured, jeered and spat upon, and the reed and the thorns whispered to Him, “How much do You love mankind, O God? How much?”
He whispered only, “Father, they know not what they do.”
Then He was taken into a courtyard, scarce able to walk for the pain that had been dealt Him, and the jeers of scorn and hate that the people yelled at Him lashed sharper than the scourges into His sensitive soul. In humility and degradation He was led forth, and His garments were stained scarlet and His eyes were blind with His Blood.
A cross, new-hewn and unstained, was laid upon His whipped shoulders, and it thrust upon His wounds. And He was surrounded by the hate-filled multitude, and soldiers led Him like the veriest beast with a rope about his waist, and still the cries and torments of malicious tongues pierced His Heart with sorrow. The cross lay heavy, heavy upon Him, and it whispered into His ear, “How much do You love mankind, O God? How much?”
He fell upon the uneven cobblestones, and into the pebbles He whispered, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The stones beneath His feet tore His soles as He walked, and His footsteps were marked in red behind Him. Again He fell to His knees, and the weight of the cross crushed Him like grain in the mill, and the stones gouged deep the flesh of His hands and knees. A woman came from the crowd, a white towel in her hands, and she knelt before Him and with her towel she wiped away the blood and sweat that was on His face.
The cloth and the stones whispered, “How much do You love mankind, O God? How much?” Upon the white cloth He left the impress of His countenance.
Through the street He was dragged, and the sky was blue and clear above Him and the sun shone down its mighty radiance upon the shrieking multitude. Women wept and grieved for Him as He walked, weary and dying, and His wonderful, sorrowful eyes lit upon them in compassion.
The sun whispered to Him, “How much do You love mankind, O God? How much?”
He said to the women, “Weep not for Me, but for yourselves and for your children.”
Once more He fell, all His wounds crying out with the torment of His fall, and once more He struggled again to His feet, a Man of Sorrows, a Man of One Wound. On He struggled, and now at last He mounted upon the tall summit of a mountain, and it was barren and brown beneath the sun and wind.
The cross was taken from His shoulders and laid upon the stere ground. Rough hands seized Him and He turned His eyes upward to heaven. His stained garments were torn from His Body, and His Blood flowed afresh from His reopened wounds and stained the brown earth below. The earth whispered, “How much do you love mankind, O God? How much?”
Then the wind, and the kiss still burning cold upon His cheek, the clamouring echoes still sounding in His ears, the wounds of the scourges, the thorns upon His bowed Head, the wooden cross: all these whispered, “How much, O God? How much?”
He was thrown upon the cross, and He stretched forth His hands, and now! Now!
Now He answered!
“This much!” He said, his hands lying ready upon the arms of the cross.
“How much?” whispered the cross.
“This much!” He cried, the nails piercing his hands and feet and transfixing Him upon the new wood, His Blood slowly staining the smooth white wood.
“How much?” whispered the nails.
He was raised aloft, and the blood from His hands and feet flowed like royal banners down the white wood, and the blood lay on His brow, and tears like diamonds were in His eyes, and wounds like roses were in His hands and feet.
“This much.” He said.
The slow minutes passed, and the long hours slipped by. The grey pallour of death spread over Him, and the blue sky was covered over with a black cloud. The earth quaked and trembled, and in places the ground was rent, and fear came upon the multitude as the earth shook with revulsion for the deed that had been committed. The sky became darker than night, and He strained upon the cross and cried, “Father! Into Thy hands I commend My Spirit!”
As He died, all of creation cried out in victory, “How much does God love mankind?”
From the heavens the voices of the angels called forth, “This much!” and all eyes turned to the pale figure hanging dead upon the cross, whose arms were outspread in a gesture of love.