During the Paschal Triduum, it can be helpful to contemplate throughout the day on what Jesus would have been going through at that time of day about 2,000 years ago.
The Last Supper
The Synoptic Gospels present the Last Supper as a Passover Seder meal. Such meals, which included a long series of commemorative rituals, began just before sunset (around 6:00 in the evening) on the first day of the weeklong festival of Passover and typically went into the night. Several cups of wine were to be drunk at set points in the meal, and the Gospels record deep and lengthy conversation among Jesus and his disciples.
Given the length and intensity of the Last Supper and the full cups of wine drunk, it is no wonder that Peter, James, and John were tempted to fall asleep during Jesus’ agony in the garden. Jesus and his disciples walked to the Mount of Olives under the light of the full moon of Passover’s vernal equinox, which would have lit up the view of Jerusalem and the Temple. By the time Judas and the band of men from the religious authorities had arrived to arrest Jesus, it was probably well into the night.
They first led Jesus to the house of Annas, the former high priest, where he was questioned and abused before being sent to Caiaphas, the current high priest. Members of the Sanhedrin assembled at Caiaphas’ house, though the midnight gathering was hardly routine. In fact, it was contrary to Jewish law for the Sanhedrin to conduct a capital trial at night. According to Matthew and Luke, the Sanhedrin reconvened in the early morning to finalize their decision to send Jesus to Pilate, since the Romans had taken away the Sanhedrin’s power to impose capital punishment.
It was likely around 6:00 in the morning on Friday that Jesus was brought before Pilate (Mk 15:1). The Roman prefect, whose headquarters were in Caesarea Maritima, was only in Jerusalem to keep order as all able Jewish men descended upon the Holy City for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. A politically-motivated lynching was hardly apt to keep the peace, so Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, who was in Jerusalem from Galilee likewise for the festival. Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate, who was probably close by, at either the palace built by Herod the Great (the father of Antipas) or at the Fortress Antonia, adjacent to the Temple. The shouts of “crucify him” incited among the crowd by the religious authorities were not met with enough cries to the contrary. There were likely many supporters of Jesus in town from Galilee for the festival, but it was still very early in the morning. Jesus was then brutally scourged and at last condemned to death.
The Way to Calvary
Before leading Jesus away, probably after 8:00 in the morning, the soldiers used Jesus for their morning sport, gathering about 500 men (a “cohort”) to watch the mocking of the “King of the Jews” crowned with thorns and spit upon. The carrying of the cross likely came to an end at Calvary some time after 9:00 in the morning, just outside the city walls where Jesus was crucified (Mk 15:25). Jesus hung on the cross for perhaps as long as six hours, expiring at 3:00 in the afternoon (Mk 15:34). Since Jerusalem was at its peak for pilgrims, a great many would have seen the “Son of Man… lifted up” (Jn 3:14) and read the inscription naming Jesus as “King of the Jews” (Jn 19:19).
Once Jesus had died, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for permission to lay Jesus in his new tomb in a garden very close to Calvary, thus saving Jesus from being cast into a mass grave. Burial had to be done before sunset (about 6:00 in the evening), which was the beginning of the Sabbath, so Joseph’s servants likely acted quickly. Nicodemus also probably sent his servants to anoint the body, since the spices John records him as providing weighed around 100 pounds (Jn 19:39).
After sunset, the Sabbath arrived. The tomb of Jesus would not be visited by his followers again until the break of dawn on Sunday morning, when the women came to finish attending to the body.