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The Sacred Pit

April 6, 2012

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As touching and heart wrenching as worship services go, Maundy Thursday may be one of the toughest to experience. The scriptures speak for themselves so beautifully and the songs that accompany can bring anyone to tears. Sharing the bread and cup together in remembrance of Jesus’ last night with his disciples can truly make us thankful for how deep his love runs. It is a solemn and holy night to consider all that happened those last hours before the guards arrested him and he was taken away from his disciples.

But…

Tonight I remember another story. One that was not told in the gospels. One whose details were skipped over completely and concluded only with this…

“When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.” (Matthew 27:1-2)

When morning came. But what happened in the night? We’re so swept up in the story from the time of Jesus’ arrest until his trial, he’s passed back and forth between Caiaphas and Pilate, and then off to the crucifixion he goes. We know the death happened on a Friday but didn’t even notice when a new day began. So what happened that night?

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Caiaphas' House in Jerusalem

Last year in Israel I heard the untold story. We were taken to the location of Caiaphas’ house. The High Priest had very large quarters, and it was thought that the trial was held in one of these sizeable rooms. As we entered the massive space, I looked up at the ceiling. Every surface was covered in stained glass windows and glittering tiled mosaics that sparkled in the sunlight. It was stunningly beautiful.

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Beautiful, and yet hauntingly tragic. The mosaics depicted Jesus bound at the hands by rope, centered between the Sanhedrin, awaiting the verdict of the trial. Another mosaic curiously showed Jesus bound by rope at the shoulders. But why?Image

That’s when it hit us. They had to put Jesus somewhere that night. You can guarantee the members of the Sanhedrin weren’t going to lose a precious moment of sleep over who they assumed to be some common criminal. And so we learned of The Pit.

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Underneath the house we were led to the dungeon, where holes in the stone showed evidence of how prisoners would’ve been bound by their hands and feet. But even this was not enough for someone as dangerous as Jesus. Instead we were shown a small hole, no more than three feet in diameter, leading down to the pit.

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The entrance to the Pit, looking up from below.

The pit consisted of a small area, perhaps 15 by 15 feet square, maybe 20 feet deep. No windows. No doors. No lights. The only way in or out was for a prisoner to be lowered by rope, tied around their shoulders and chest, lowering them in through the hole in the roof. Lowering them into the cold, empty darkness of the pit. Alone. Forgotten.

This is where it is believed Jesus spent his last night before his death.

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Jesus, lowered by rope into the pit to spend his last night before the crucifixion.

Outside in the courtyard, Peter was keeping watch, but also denying Christ three times before dawn. Above in the many luxurious rooms, Caiaphas and others slept soundly, not worrying a moment that they were about to condemn an innocent man to death. But there, in the dark, no food, water or earthly comfort, Jesus spent his last few hours alone.

I suspect this night had to hurt more than the lashes and beatings that would come in the morning.

The words of the Psalmist speak too clearly of what Jesus may have cried out.

O LORD, God of my salvation, when at night, I cry in your presence, let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help, like those forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your land.

You have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. 

You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a thing of horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow.

Every day I call on you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you. Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the Shades rise up to praise you? 

Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

But I, O LORD, cry out to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O LORD, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me? Wretched and close to death from my youth up, I suffer terrors; I am desperate.

Your wrath has swept over me; your dread assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long; from all sides they close in on me. You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me; my companions are in darkness.”

Psalm 88

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda permalink
    April 6, 2012 11:50 am

    This was very thoughtful. You are correct that we didn’t think of this lapse in time.
    Thanks for bringing this to my attention and causing me to ponder more this
    Holy Week of the true message of Easter. Prayers for you as you prepare for
    all the services and duties this week.

  2. April 12, 2013 1:12 pm

    I wondered why there was a lapse in time from when Jesus was taken from the garden by the Roman soldiers until he was tried.I figured since the writers of the gospels weren’t with Him all the time, John being the closest exception, that was the reason we knew so little. I can’t remember which saint asked Jesus what part of His body hurt the most. They thought perhaps it was his back from the scourging or his wrists were the nails were placed through the median nerves. Jesus said it was His shoulders from the weight of the cross, but I’m sure they were already hurting from hanging by those ropes in the pit. Jesus you suffered so much for us. Let us not be afraid to suffer for the sake of your Church and You!

  3. April 14, 2013 5:57 pm

    This is a very interesting post. I was at the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu last mount during Holy Thursday when we wall at night from Gethsemane to the Sacred Pit of Jesus below the church. It was an amazing experience. I have created a Video about it and this is the link to it: http://jerusalemexperience.com/tour/holy-thursday-agony-in-the-garden-jesus/. In a mount or two I will post a dedicated Video to this Church and its story.

  4. Frank permalink
    October 26, 2014 12:51 pm

    I was there in May. The guide said there is an imprint in the rock that looks like someone leaning up against it. The lighting was bright and I couldn’t find it. I didn’t see it in the pictures I took. The photo on the way to the pit shows it.

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