Zadkiel looked slowly around the crowd. Mary. Mary. John. Most of the others had fled. But as his eyes searched he saw familiar faces. The blind man. The woman who had bled. Those who had realised that suffering was not the end of the world.
But this suffering might be, he thought.
Jophiel knelt on the other side of the clearing, tears streaming down his face as he recorded the fugue that had begun with those hard struck nails.
Michael seemed unflinching, but one wing reached out. Feathers brushed the woman he had chosen, who had done her work so well.
On the edge of the crowd, stood Sariel: his work not yet done.
Michael drew close to Zadkiel and said, ‘It is time.’
‘Must we?’ Zadkiel said angrily. ‘God seems to have gone already.’ ‘No. This is just the beginning. You know what we must do.’
Zadkiel nodded and caught Jophiel’s eye. Jophiel set down his quill, and called the angels to attention. One signal, and the circle formed: wings locked to forge a wall around the cross.
The tent of absence, Zadkiel realised. He raised his wings reluctantly, and darkness covered the whole earth.
Their task was to keep God out. God had withdrawn himself from himself, and become as remote as the deepest fear of the heart. God stood on the edge of non-being to create a space where he was not, to allow this darkness, this freedom, this choice.
And we bear the weight of it, Zadkiel uttered, still resisting his task.
The darkness held for three hours. The angels strained with it, letting love and grief, longing and abandonment bash against their wings.
Then Jesus cried aloud, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ and Zadkiel’s scream filled the heavens. Michael and Jophiel flexed their wings around him, absorbing the force of his grief and using it to strengthen the circle.
God’s agony pressed in on them too. The sun stopped; the heavens shuddered, and the whole earth stood on the edge of the abyss.
Jesus cried out again, and Sariel stepped forward. He curled his dark wings around the cross, gently. Then, as Jesus breathed out, his wings snapped shut: cutting breath from breath; life from death.
Jophiel was the first to break the circle, as anguish overwhelmed him. Myriad of angels shut their wings as the sky was rent and the veil of the temple torn in two.
‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ Zadkiel whispered, the words now fully his own.