Reflections for Good Friday

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land* until three in the afternoon. 34At 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?’* 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ 36And 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.’ 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now 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!’*

40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41These 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 15:33-41) 

And they watched from a distance, a group of women who had followed Jesus, and even provided for him while he was in Galilee.  They watched as the one to whom they'd committed their lives and futures hung on a cross, dying a cruel and humiliating death.  It is interesting that Mark writes that many women had followed Jesus to Jerusalem.  We think of his followers in terms of twelve men, and yet the community that gathered around Jesus was comprised of a significant number of women.  Why is that?  What was it about Jesus that drew them to him and his cause.  Most likely, the majority of these women were widows.  Some might have been related to the disciples who followed Jesus.  Now, at least in Mark's description, they alone among the community of believers were willing to keep watch.

As they stood and watched, they heard Jesus cry out from the cross.  His cry, according to Mark was one of abandonment and dereliction.  The words came from Psalm 22:  "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"  These words lead to mocking and the provision of sour wine -- and then there was death. 

The story should end here.  Death has swallowed up life.  Hope has given way to despair.  Darkness holds sway over the land.   And yet there are these two enigmatic statements.  First is a reference in Mark to the splitting of the Temple curtain.  It isn't explained or developed.  It just stands there, perhaps as a reference by the writer that the Temple had been destroyed, as Jesus had predicted.  Perhaps as Christian tradition has held, Jesus had entered the Holy of Holies to obtain atonement for the sins of humanity.  Whatever it means, it speaks to a change in status of devotion.

The second statement is made by a centurion, acclaiming Jesus God's son.  Again the meaning is unclear.  Of course, in this context, we always have to remember that Caesar is the Son of God, and therefore, if a Roman Soldier acclaims Jesus God's son, there is in the statement a change of allegiance.

In Mark's gospel, the last words are the cry of abandonment.  There is no commendation to the hands of the Father, nor is there the final "It is finished."  With that comes the end of promise.  And yet, the story is not over.  There are more chapters that must be attended to, and so we continue to develop and tell the story of the one who gives us life and purpose.


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