It was the ninth year of Tiberius Caesar, Emperor of Rome. Rome ruled the greater part of the Mediterranean Ocean basin. The Roman Empire spanned from the Iberian Peninsula in the west, up through France, well into Germany. In the south, Rome ruled from the eastern portion of Morocco across Northern Libya, most of Egypt and the Levant, east through Syria.
Most of the Roman world was at peace, more or less.
However, in the Roman province of Palestine – in the area called Israel by the inhabitants feelings were mixed.
It was Passover weekend. It was at the time – and still in many cases – the most Holy Celebration of the Jewish religion and religious people. This was the anniversary of the escape from Egyptian captivity, the Exodus. The time when Almighty God, the Lord of the Israelites killed the first born of Egypt and allowed the people of Israel to leave Egypt and bondage to begin their journey to their promised homeland. It was normally a very joyous occasion. It was the reminder of the love of the Lord and hope for His assistance.
But not exclusively on this instance.
The day before, the local Roman Governor, Pilate had executed three local men. Two were unnamed and unlamented – save possibly by their families, no comments noted – and one unusual Jewish carpenter who …
Hard to say. Some said he was a troublemaker. He surely upset the ruling Jewish council, the Sanhedrin. He announced a philosophy of Judaism that sounded rather solid against the teachings of Moses and the Prophets, but struck a sour note with the current religious authorities. He taught and spoke as a Prophet. Some took him to be Elijah, or another of the prophets. He taught with a certainty and fresh delivery that seemed to claim the role of Prophet; of one who spoke God’s message. He claimed more though. He said – in so many words – He was God.
That last bit really infuriated the Sanhedrin and others. It is rumored they were the ones who had Pilate execute the man. There is no record of this fellow – Jesus, he was called – committing any crimes against the Roman authority. Indeed, other than that incident in the Temple, he never did anything which harmed or inconvenienced anyone. Yes, there was that time he healed a man’s withered arm on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were really upset he ‘worked’ on the Sabbath; but fixing a man’s arm? Is that such a violation? And all he did was look at the man and tell him his arm was fixed. It wasn’t like Jesus lifted a tool or load, or spent several hours sweating and laboring.
But Jesus was indeed executed by a Roman execution party. The whole city – more or less – went out to watch. There were still a number of people there – including his mother, poor woman – when he died on that cross. It was a quick death for a crucifixion. Still pretty disgusting.
His followers all faded away. Except for his mother and a couple of her friends who stayed to observe the final preparations for burial. And a surprise; a fellow named Nicodemus claimed the body for burial. Another surprise, Nicodemus put the body in a nearby tomb belonging to Nicodemus. An unused tomb, yet!
All his disciples were in hiding. They were fearful the Sanhedrin would have them arrested and executed as well. Probably a reasonable fear. Peter had ventured after Jesus the night before, but hadn’t been able to free Jesus or do much of anything. This night, he was silent and kept to himself. Not usual for Peter; typically Peter was the center of attention. Peter was the first to talk, nearly always. In the absence of Jesus – the clear leader – Peter was the senior man, so to speak. But Peter wasn’t himself. Not at all. Nor could anyone get him to talk about why. Peter sat off to one side and nervously fingered a pebble in his hands.
Jesus was dead. Jesus had been the hope of the little group of men, and of a greater group of other men and women. They all been convinced he was an important man. Most had thought him Divinely inspired in one way or other. Some had thought him the promised Messiah. Peter – now silent – had once declared belief that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. All the disciples had agreed with that assessment. Many of the larger group had agreed as well.
The Messiah, the long awaited Deliverer of Israel was here! Soon, the Messiah would begin the process of throwing off the Roman oppressors and restoring the glory of Israel. Soon, the nation would again possess the kingdom of David and be rich and powerful and unbeatable! Soon! The Messiah was HERE!
And now he is dead. So much for the future. Hope was gone, but gloom they had.
Hard to define or even describe, but there was a ‘yet’. Not ‘hope’ so much, just a ‘but’…
They talked, desultorily and sporadically.
What had he said? One offered he missed the details, he had been thinking about his position in the new kingdom. Others didn’t say much out loud, but had similar thoughts. They remembered Jesus had said something about dying – which seemed different now than before – and something else… but what?
“He said He would assemble his believers and followers” Peter spat out, the first thing he had said all night.
The others nodded, remembering. No one wanted to provoke Peter, so they were silent.
“Not much chance of that now” Peter said in a vicious tone and threw the pebble across the room.
Silence again in the room and among the disciples.
Another of the disciples finally said he was going to get some sleep. So they all began the process of preparing for sleep as best they could. One of them said, “I’d sure like to remember what else He said. He spoke about – doing? – something after He was killed.” The other disciples muttered something all at once and lay down.
Peter spoke one last time, “I don’t think I’ll sleep much tonight”.
But he was wrong. He – and the rest – slept that night. And, they dreamed.