February 18th, 2016

The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All”

cross8“When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!'”

“There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magadalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.”

Mark’s stark portrayal of the death of Jesus is the climax of his gospel. He gives no bitter details of the physical process of Jesus’ death; his readers were all too familiar with the horrors of crucifixion. Jesus has been abandoned by his disciples; he stood alone, in utter isolation. Was he now abandoned even by God? There was no light from heaven; darkness that covered the land of Egypt before the first Passover and the dreariness prophesied for the day of God’s judgment; “I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.” (Amos 8:9)

Jesus cried out the opening words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” A tormented cry of one who has been abandoned. Jesus experienced no comfort; only God-foresakenness. Some have tried to soften the scene and reduce its profound desolation. They have said that the opening words of Psalm 22 imply that Jesus prayed the entire psalm before his death, changing the final words of Jesus from a cry of abandonment to a prayer of trust. Yet it seems clear from Mark’s stark presentation that Jesus did feel abandoned by the Father with whom he had lived in intimate closeness, a suffering even worse than his shame, nakedness, and physical torture. At the moment in which Jesus most fully embodied God’s love, he felt totally deserted by God. Why? Surely it is because Jesus totally took the sin of the world upon himself, a sin that separates us from God. He died the most bitter of all deaths in order to save us from such a horrible fate, being totally separated by God!

With a loud and wordless cry, Jesus stopped breathing. More than any other New Testament writing, the Gospel of Mark expresses the fierce brutality of Jesus’ torturous death.

The first consequence of Jesus’ death is the rending of the temple curtain. The temple veil probably refers to the curtain that hung between the inner sanctuary and the Holy of Holies. The tearing from top to bottom symbolizes the access to God which Christ’s death won for all people. The second consequence of the death of Jesus is the confession of the Roman centurion as he watched Jesus die on the cross. His words are the fullest expression of Jesus’ identity; “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Both of these consequences signify that on the cross Jesus has established a new, inclusive community of disciples. One of these new disciples is the Roman soldier, a Gentile, a man outside the community of Israel. With him also are the women, those faithful disciples who stood with Jesus at his cross when the others had fled. The tearing of the temple curtain in two dramatically underlines what the people at the foot of the cross express; the cross has mad access to God available to all, regardless of race, status, or gender. From now on, the way to forgiveness and unity with God is through the cross.

Reflection

When have you felt abandoned by God? How does the fact that Jesus truly felt abandoned by God help you?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, through your cross you have opened the way to God and gathered me into the community of your disciples. Thank you for remaining on the cross so that I might live.

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