From Ashley Buenger: "I Thirst"
For this year's Holy Week, we've had Soma artists create meditations based on Jesus' "Seven Last Words" - seven statements the Bible records Jesus saying during his crucifixion.
A man and his son walk up the mountain.
The son bears a bundle of sticks on his back. His father carries a lit torch.
When they reach the right spot, they stop. The man plants his torch in the ground and the boy removes the bundle from his back.
The man arranges the bundle and then speaks to his son.
“Turn around. I am going to bind your wrists.”
The boy obeys.
“Sit down. I’m going to bind your ankles.”
The boy obeys.
The man picks up his son with great difficulty, since he is a man of many years. Trembling, he places his son on the bundle of sticks.
He kneels next to his son and bows his head.
Then he unsheathes his knife. He raises it up above his son. The boy does not flinch.
A great light shines, and a loud voice says, “Abraham! Abraham!”
Shaking harder, the man, “Here I am.”
“Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
The man lowers the knife and weeps. His back heaves up and down.
The son is still.
The man stands and cuts the ropes on his son’s ankles and wrists. He lifts him up and embraces him.
“Father?” says the son.
“I am thirsty, father.”
The man takes a waterskin from his belt and hands it to his son.
A woman cowers in the corner of her house. A crimson cord is whipped by the wind outside her window.
The spies had told her to tie it up to mark her house. They had also told her not to be afraid.
But she is afraid.
Outside her door: screams, crashes, wails of despair.
Her city is being destroyed. But that’s not what is scaring her.
She is afraid that she won’t be accepted by them — the people taking her city, the people who worship the mysterious God who made the Egyptian gods seem weak as so many pebbles.
She covers her head and prays.
She doesn’t know if she is doing it correctly, but she doesn’t care.
“I am a prostitute in this city,” she begins to say to God. He must know the truth. She hopes he accepts her anyway.
Two men rush through her door in the middle of her prayer.
“Rahab! We have to go now.”
They lead her and her family safely out of the city. They try not to look too hard around them. Destruction is everywhere.
Once they are safely outside the walls, the woman grabs the arm of one of her rescuers.
“Your God,” she says, “I want to understand him. Tell me how.”
“You will,” he says. “He was the one to rescue you. You may live among my people, and you will learn about God.”
His eyes are bright, and she sees that this man knows God well.
Rahab turns and watches her city collapse. She does not feel remorse or sadness.
She feels relief. She is no longer Rahab the prostitute.
Her new life with these people will be different. She looks at her rescuer. He is taking a drink of water from a sheepskin bag.
“Are you thirsty?” he says when he notices her watching him.
She takes a long drink.
A man wipes the blood off his sword. He counts the bodies around him. Probably close to a hundred.
He silently thanks God for the victory.
He has had many victories. He is a man of war.
It’s not a life that he would have chosen, and the brutality of it still surprises him.
He had such a peaceful life as a shepherd. He thinks longingly of lying on the lush hills, staring at the sky.
He sheathes his sword.
He is a man of obedience, and the God he loves calls him to battle. It is in the name of God that he fights. That he wins. But he would choose the life of a shepherd if he could. He would dance and sing and write poetry, only responsible for his sheep, not for the thousands of men in his army.
He longs for a drink of water from the well near his hometown of Bethlehem. But his enemies have captured the city, so it’s impossible.
The man looks down at his calloused hands. He is thankful.
He gets on his knees and raises his hands up to the heavens. He cries loudly, a cry that turns to a song that turns to tears falling down his face.
His soldiers begin to gather and look at their king. Some of them join him in his song.
Once the song is over, many of the men leave. Three remain with him.
He says aloud, “I am so thirsty, I wish I had a drink from the well of the gate near Bethlehem.”
Then he falls asleep.
The three men fasten their swords. They turn toward Bethlehem, David’s hometown.
Their king is thirsty. They will bring him a drink.
A woman groans. Her face contorts as the waves of pain wash in and out.
The man with her gently rubs her back. He is trying to hide the fear on his face.
They are surrounded by animals. They watch the scene with empty eyes.
The woman yells. The man rubs her back faster. Whispers to her.
“It’s close now. The baby is close now,” he says, even though he has no idea if what he is saying is actually true.
Her eyes meet his, looking for reassurance. The man smiles and nods.
The woman yells again and closes her eyes against the pain.
She is sitting on straw with her knees drawn up near her elbows. The man comes around her to watch for the baby.
“I can see his head,” the man says. The woman doesn’t seem to hear him; she groans again.
“Now I can see his shoulders, keep pushing.”
A final cry, and the man catches the baby in his arms.
The baby cries.
The man trembles while slowly counting the baby’s fingers and toes. All twenty. He smiles.
The woman holds out her arms for the baby. The man gives the baby to her.
“Jesus.” The woman says to the baby. “That is your name.”
She nuzzles her face close to the baby’s.
The man gets up and retrieves a small satchel.
“Mary, are you thirsty?” he says.
She doesn’t hear him.
A man looks up at the sky as if he looking for rain. The sky is a sickly wash of gray and green, much like a storm is coming.
The people standing around the man look up at the sky when he does, following his line of sight.
They are waiting. Time is moving slowly.
The cross on which the man hangs creaks under his weight. His head droops forward.
They are waiting for death, not rain.
It’s a matter of minutes now.
The man on the cross looks down at the woman near his feet.
She is his mother, and she has not moved since he was first hung. He already made arrangements to ensure she will be cared for. Because even in death, this man is thinking of others before himself.
He is ready to die.
He knew that he would.
He knew that this would be the way that it would happen.
He looks at the sky again. Everyone around him looks at the sky too.
The man on the cross is not expecting angels. He is not expecting earthquakes. He is expecting peace.
“I thirst.” He says to the guards nearby.
One of them puts vinegar water on a sponge and raises it to the dying man’s cracked lips.
Image: "Crucifixion" by Ang Kiukok