Pilate brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Then he handed him over to be crucified. –John 19:13,1
I am a fan of British mystery stories on public television. In various historical mysteries, there is a scene that takes place in the courtroom where the judge places a piece of black silk on his head and pronounces the sentence. The judge names the condemned and says “you are sentenced to be taken hence to the prison in which you were last confined and from there to a place of execution where you will be hanged by the neck until dead and thereafter your body buried within the precincts of the prison and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul.”
I recently watched an episode of the BBC series Granchester in which a young man was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Although the young man had been involved in the death of a friend, he had not meant to kill her – only to assist her per her instructions in aborting a child that had been conceived through sexual abuse. The Anglican priest, who is also the star of the series, had convinced the young man to turn himself in, thinking that the court would have mercy.
After the young man is sentenced to death, the priest visits him and is with him when he goes to meet his death. Because it is a television drama, I kept waiting for a reprieve to come. There were mitigating circumstances that if they came to light, may have saved this young man’s life. But the reprieve does not come and there is a scene of heart-wrenching agony as the priest watches the young man drop through the floor as he is hanged. The priest is loudly repeating scripture, “the Lord bless you and keep you” clearly trying to reach both the young man and himself.
We all know that death will come, but we are able to maintain a sense that it is in the unknown future. For the person condemned to death by the courts or even by an acute terminal illness, knowing that death is imminent separates that person from the world of the living. When the sentence is pronounced or the diagnosis is confirmed, the camera zooms in and the world narrows to only one person and the existential struggle against death. The scene may widen to register the lament of a parent or a lover, but the condemned person is cut off from that experience.
Jesus stands before Pilate. Pilate, with the black silk on his head, has pronounced the sentence and Jesus will be taken to the place of execution where he will be hanged until he is dead. The reprieve that Jesus prayed for in the Garden of Gethsemane is not given. The camera has zoomed in. Jesus is cut off from the land of the living. He is on this journey alone.