Text: Mark 15:33-39
Date: Palm/Passion Sunday + 4/5/09
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
That’s it? That’s all? He dies and they lay Him in a tomb? Though you and I know that there is more to the story than that, indeed, that without the resurrection only half of the story has been told, especially in our age of instant gratification, the Sunday of the Passion pulls us up short, makes us slow down, and Holy Week tries to teach us how to ponder and meditate on why it is that the Savior had to die as the Suffering Servant. In fact, knowing the rest of the story as we do, it is nearly impossible for us to grasp the horrific sorrow and devastating grief of the first disciples, a sorrow and grief that we, nevertheless, need to apprehend. For the less we see our need for a Savior, the less will be our joy over his deliverance. Good Friday alone will not save, but without it there would be no Easter.
The liturgy for this day is designed to thrust us, ready or not and right off the bat, from the highest praise of the triumphal entry to the darkest despair of the crucifixion and to focus our attention on the shock and awe of our Lord’s most violent death. Those interested only in a so-called “gospel” of happiness, joy, power, progress and success cannot bear this liturgy. Indeed, no one can as is demonstrated by the fleeing of all His disciples into the night, leaving Jesus alone, captured, arrested, put on trial and delivered to the Gentiles to carry out the gruesome penalty for claiming to be King of the Jews and King of Israel.
At times like this, times that exceed our comprehension, it seems only the creation can testify to the cosmic significance. “When the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” (Mark 15:33). The prophet Amos gave the Divine Word,
“And on that day,” declares the Lord God,
“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight….
I will make it like the mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day. (Amos 8:9-10)
As the plague of darkness preceded the first Passover, darkness proclaims the curse of God. The curse is upon all sin. But now all sin is focused on and concentrated on only one Man, the man, Christ Jesus. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13).
“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice” (Mark 15:34). His first word from the cross was “Father, forgive them.” His last word from the cross would be “Father, into your hands.” But here, in the darkness of God’s judgment, the wrath of God in this mystery of God withdrawing His presence from His Son, the Son says not “Father,” but, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why? Because it was God’s will that all the wrath and judgment and punishment of sin might be borne by Him who alone had life in Himself. He is the Light no darkness can overcome. He even leads us through death, as was foretold by the prophet Isaiah, “By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” (Is. 53:8). “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5).
Crucifixions were often accompanied by screams of rage and pain, wild curses and shouts of despair, most calming down as death finally approaches. Quite the opposite with Jesus who maintains consciousness to His last breath and, in the moment of death, He “uttered a loud cry and breathed his last” (Mark 15:37).
The Roman centurion who oversaw this crucifixion was struck, for Jesus did not die the normal death of other crucified men. When he “saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” And this is the point Mark has been aiming for ever since he penned the opening words, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Only three times is the identification “Son of God” mentioned in Mark, and then, never by His disciples, His friends or His enemies. Only by St. Mark in the title (1:1), once by the unclean spirits (3:11), and here by a Gentile, Roman centurion (15:39).
In order for us or anyone to know that saving faith, we need to know the depths of our own waywardness, the slavery of our own sin, the horror of God’s righteous judgment, and then to realize that this One bore it all—for me, for you, for all. Let us, therefore, now enter this most holy time of our redemption that we may come to true repentance and faith. Let us follow from the Passover Upper Room to the Garden of His agony and betrayal. Let us gaze upon His cross and sufferings that we may better understand our own. Finally, let us be plunged into that Holy Night where baptismal waters drown the old, sinful nature, being buried with Christ in order that, as Christ was raised again from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too may live new lives and arrive at the true joy of our resurrection.