Today’s Gospel Passage: John 19: 16-18, 28-30
Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew* is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them…After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
This is the day when Christianity is at its lowest point. Most of us 21st-century believers like to err on the side of hope, running quickly through these hours, knowing that the Easter dawn is soon appearing. But I think we do ourselves, not to mention Jesus, a disservice by not looking at this day even without the promise of the Easter feast.
Tradition holds that after the debacle in the garden, Jesus was taken to the House of Caiphas. It was a fine house right on the edge of the city walls. There he was thrown into a lower room, a dungeon, if you will, where he spent the night. This Jesus of Nazareth, the Incarnate Word, who had drawn wise kings and lowly shepherds, who had impressed the high priests of the Temple, who had taught and healed, who had welcomed the outcast and debunked the presumed “in” crowd, who had calmed the storms and raised the dead, who had committed body and blood and had washed the feet of his friends…this was the man who sat alone knowing this night would be his last.
And then in the morning, he was rushed through a facade of a trial and a paltry sentencing, paraded through the streets of the holiest of cities, as he was forced to carry the cross on his back. But lest we think this was some big deal, life continued to go on. It was just another Roman execution in a city wrought with polarization and distrust. The vendors were out that morning selling their wares. The politicians were out making sure that everyone knew that they had something to do with ridding the community of one who spoke against normalcy and reason, against those who knew best, one who was touted as the Messiah. And there were others there that felt helpless–a woman who Jesus had healed, the crying women that knew him, his own mother. No one could do anything. There was a simple man from Cyrene that carried his cross for a few yards. After all, it was the least he could do.
And then, we are told, he was lifted up and tacked on to the cross like a haphazardly-strewn note that we tack on to our door. There was no remorse; there was really no pompous display; there wasn’t really even a show. Jesus was nailed to the cross as a common and everyday criminal, a bother, really, to sophisticated and proper society.
He breathed his last breath and willingly and intentionally gave up his spirit to the One who created him. He was gone forever, laid in a Holy Sepulchre, a permanent tomb. The world would go back to the way it was. All was quiet.
But then the thunder roared and the clouds covered the light even though it was in the middle of the day. The earth shook as if Creation’s very core was breaking. And the temple curtain, the only thing that had for so long separated the holiest of holies from the boundaries of humanity and the earth on which it walked, was torn in two with a violence that no one could imagine, as if in that moment, the Divine had somehow spilled into the earth even as the Son of Man had poured himself into the Divine.
Nothing would ever be the same again. And when the light finally dawns, we will realize that the earth, that all of humanity, that even God has forever changed. God took death away and in its place put life and since life can only exist with God, God is here forever.
Easter will dawn, but the light will only serve to illumine what has happened this day, for on this day, Creation has happened again.
Grace and Peace,