Reading the Passion of Christ, I want to mentally avert my eyes at the relentless cruelty and agony.
Updating this story to 21st century Vermont gives the horror some context. The son of God appears (in the flesh, as a man) on the eve of the last shopping weekend before Christmas. He walks into the University Mall and overturns the store racks and pushes shoppers out into the parking lot.
The mall manager calls the police, and the police calls the governor. The governor calls the attorney general, the Vermont National Guard, and the pastors of the biggest churches. Together they decide that this man is bad for business and a threat to their respective missions, and therefore he must die. The local federal judge wonders (not for the first time) if Vermont hasn't lost its mind, so he offers to release the son of God. "No," the leaders and their mob reply. "Release Michael Jacques!" He does. The rapist-murderer of little girls is set free, and Vermont is safe from the likes of Jesus. Then the judge has the son of God flogged in front of the courthouse on Church Street, briefly interrupting the flow of last minute visitors to the post office, their arms full of holiday packages.
The judge then hands over Jesus to the Vermont National Guard. An entire company of soldiers beat him, spit on him, and jam a helmet with razor webbing onto his head. Finally, he a cross is loaded onto his shoulders and he is marched up Pearl Street to the Water Tower by UVM and Fletcher Allen. The cross is tied to the tower, and he is nailed to the cross. The soldiers, the governor, the police, and more gaily dressed holiday shoppers stand around and taunt him to come down and save himself. He dies in anguish.
And when it's all over, everyone smiles and says "Merry Christmas!" or "Happy Holidays!" and waves and goes home. Home for the holidays.
But even in this story, there is redemption. There is Simon, a man from Highgate doing some shopping in town, who is trying to get through the crowds at the intersection of North Willard Street when soldiers force him to carry the cross because Jesus is too exhausted and is slowing down the procession. His reaction of empathy and moral outrage is the beginning of a lifelong identification with Jesus. A National Guard sergeant looks at Jesus hanging dead on the cross and suddenly realizes he and his comrades have killed an innocent, even godly, man. His life is changed. One affluent local businessman who was quietly on Jesus' side bravely approaches the chief medical examiner and asks for permission to remove the body. Tomorrow is Saturday and no-one wants to work, so the request is granted. He places the body in his own well-appointed plot at Lakeview Cemetary.
And on Sunday, the grave was visited by the women who had served Jesus faithfully for months and who all day Friday had remained courageous witnesses and faithful prayer warriors. There were "there" for Jesus.
What happened then is told in Chapter 16. But you already know. So you know that when evil takes its best shot against God, and appears to win......redemption and glory are right around the corner. And so today we watch and wait, for our redemption draweth nigh.