Were You There at the End?

Today’s Scripture Passage: Mark 15: 34-47.
To read today’s portion of the account of the Passion, click on the below link:

It’s 3:00.  The bells have begun to toll.  The sky is black and rumbling. After hanging there for hours, Jesus is nearing death.  He cries out from the depth of his forsakenness, the depth of his loneliness and abandonment.

Standing in the background, we want to help.  We want to bring comfort and a swift and painless death.  But we don’t.  Instead we stand by, not really knowing what to do, not really knowing if we should get involved, put our own selves at risk perhaps.  The truth is, we don’t really want to get our hands dirty.  Why do we think that because Jesus is our Savior, we should become nothing more than inert bystanders?  Well, we’ve never been told that.  No where in Scripture does it tell us to sit back while Jesus does all the hard stuff.  Oh, it would definitely be more palatable to just sort of walk way from this whole ugly mess and wait for it to pass, maybe show up Sunday morning for the grand processional with not even a bloodstain on us.

And then, it is over.  Jesus cries out and breathes his last breath on this earth.  The last piece of humanity that was at its fullest, the last shred that was what God envisioned, goes away in one last long and drawn out exhale.  God breathed us into being and is now exhaling and slipping away.  It is finished.  Jesus is gone.

Suddenly, the earth shakes and flashes of lightning cut across the darkened sky.  Torrential winds begin to blow across the earth and rain begins pouring onto the land.  The curtain of the temple, the veil that separates the Holy of Holies from us, that separates holiness from the earth, is torn in two and heaven and earth begin to spill together.  In some ways, they become almost undistinguishable from each other.  It is almost as if they somehow belong together, perhaps that they always belonged together. 

And then, from the shadows emerge the women.  They are those who are powerless, meaningless in society.  They are those whom Jesus loved.  And they were there even at the end.  Because the Sabbath was beginning, Joseph of Arimethea, an outsider in Jesus’ circle, asked for Jesus body.  And after anointing him, Joseph buried him in a borrowed tomb.  Even in death, Jesus had no home.  Even in death, the world did not make room.  And so the stone was rolled into place.  And those who loved him tried to go back to their lives.

So, were you there at the end?  Were you there when Jesus died, when the world changed, and when Jesus was buried in an unmarked grave?  The women knew where he was buried.  But no one else seemed to know.  They were not there.  So, what now?  We were always told to follow Jesus.  Where is he now?  Well you see, this would be the point at which we are compelled to pick up our cross and follow.  This would be the place where we die to self, where we leave our selves behind and go forward.  This would be the place where we experience the wholeness of who Jesus is.  This is the moment for which we’ve been preparing on this forty-day journey.  Just as the earth and heaven have spilled together, becoming undistinguishable, so have death and life.  No longer can we see where one ends and another begins because death has been recreated as life, death itself has had the breath of God breathed into it. The Protestant notion of the “empty cross” does not even make sense.  The cross is not empty; it is full of life–all of life. 

But we have to wait.  We have to enter the Cross on this day.  We have to follow Christ.  We have to die with Christ this day–die to self, die to greed and selfishness and putting ourselves ahead of others, die to prejudice and exclusion and a lack of compassion for our brothers and sisters in this holy earth.  Today we die.  And then we wait.  For God has gone on ahead.  God entered death first and asked us to do the same, asked us to follow, asked us to take up our cross.  So, take up your cross and follow.  For those who believe that God redeems, death is now part of life, earth is now part of heaven, and endings are now part of our beginning.  The birthing is not over.  It is never really finished.  On this night it all spills together and waits for God’s redeeming work.  On this night the earth once again waits with expectant hope for birth to happen.  But this time, it is ours!

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright,
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child!
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Silent night!  Holy night!
Son of God, loves pure light
Radiant beams from Thy Holy Face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!
Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!

So, even as we wait in darkness, even as we grieve this night, God has only begun creating Life.  So, were you there at the end?  If we’re not there at the end, we’ll miss what comes next.  In the silence and holiness of this night, God is with us, walking us through to Life.
The point of Holy Week is to empty.  It is the completion of the process of Lent in which we have made room for our death…Resurrection is finding that place that is just for us.  In the beginning of Holy Week, we find ourselves spiritually homeless.  But when we are homeless, we are ready to be sheltered.  The shelter from death, in life, is on its way.  We don’t need to fear the emptiness.  (Donna E. Schaper, in Calmly Plotting the Resurrection, p. 80.)
Grace and Peace,

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