Today we hear from the Passion account according to Saint Mark. The shortest of the Gospels. The one that focuses on the miracles rather than the teaching of Jesus. The word Immediately is used more in Mark’s Gospel than in any other book of the Bible. Chapter 15 begins, “As soon as it was morning…” Quickly. Must move on. There is an urgency to Mark’s Gospel. It is marked by action, driving Jesus toward Jerusalem, toward the cross. This is why Jesus came. The power, the miracles, the action of God in the world, all lead to this point – Jesus crucified. Jesus says only two words to Pilate. “su legeis” In English it’s four words. “You have said so.” He makes no further answer. The only other words from Jesus in today’s Gospel are a quotation from the Psalm. Eloi, Eloi, Lema sabachthani. Four more words. In English – My God My God why have you forsaken me. Jesus doesn’t say much. And he doesn’t do much. The Gospel of Jesus miracles, the one that has Jesus moving relentlessly to the cross, has Jesus being done to. He is led, delivered over, led away, and crucified. It happens to him. But it is not a helpless Jesus who is crucified. That is what we see. The will of the Father is being accomplished in these events. Jesus, paying the penalty for sin.
The leaders of the people, who knew the scriptures, refused to understand their meaning. Jesus calls out from Psalm 22, but the people think he is calling Elijah. They may have memorized the words of the bible. But they do not know the scriptures, nor the power therein.
It is the Roman centurion who confesses. “Truly this man was the son of God.” He is correct, but too late. God is dead on the cross. And now, the one who was led and delivered and crucified, will be buried. Actionless. Powerless. Jesus goes into death for the sins of the people. And the people do not know it, can not hear it. Do not care. They called out crucify, even knowing he was innocent. They got what they wanted. Jesus has been killed.
But ultimately, it was not the Romans that killed him. Jesus calls out in loud voice. He breathes his last. He is not overcome, he does not succumb. He knows the moment of his death. He entrusts himself into the hands of his heavenly Father. The scriptures are fulfilled. Not just the ones like our Old Testament reading, that talk of Jesus as a lamb being led to the slaughter, as a tree being destroyed, being cut off from the land of the living. Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy that said the seed of the woman would crush the serpent. That he would be struck on the heel as he did so. The poisonous snake is crushed. The one who crushes is struck and dies. Even in the promise to Adam and Eve, there is death. There must be a death to redeem from sin. And Mark records that death. The Son of God dying, even as the curtain in the temple is torn in two from top to bottom. Jesus is the sacrifice to cancel guilt. He is the one who will bring us salvation.
And Mark, in typical fashion, records only one of the seven words on the cross – less than anyone else. And that word looks to not only the Old Testament and her promises, but to the actions of God the Father. Who laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all. “My God My God why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus has been sent into Hell. And yet, the Psalm ends with the hope of the forgiveness of sins:
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.
Jesus is not abandoned by God. Even in his death that divinity is seen by a foreigner. One who has no interest in the squabbles of the people. He sees, and he confesses that this is God. And Jesus is laid in the tomb in grief. But he will be raised. The chapter ends with Mary Magdelene and Mary the Mother of Joses seeing where Jesus is laid. It’s as if Mark knows that some will claim the women just got confused and went to the wrong tomb. No. They knew where he was. That line is only included as a pointer to the resurrection to come. The resurrection – it is where the cross leads. But we aren’t there yet. We can not stay forever at the cross, we must move to the resurrection. If we stand forever looking at Jesus dead, then he is no different than any other crucifixion victim. It is the resurrection that sets him apart. But that’s the reason we do spend this week at the foot of the cross. Because we know the end. That’s why our crosses are not empty symbols. Only those who know Jesus is raised from the dead would be so bold to put his image on the cross. Because we do not worship a dead God. We worship the Lord who comes in power to save his people. Who yes, was crucified. God, serving his people. Showing love to those who were his enemies. Redeeming them and calling them his own. That is what happens on the cross. That is what we celebrate and remember this week. What we proclaim throughout the year. Christ will be raised. But we aren’t there yet. For now a few more days, a few more hours meditating on the cross and passion, the precious death and burial of our Lord. We know how it ends, and so, our pondering is not futile, not just remembering the past. Rather, it is receiving the gift, through the word preached. Through the Body and blood given and shed. Because we proclaim the resurrection, we can afford to spend time at the cross pondering the suffering and death as well.