Posted by: Fr Chris | March 29, 2010

Seven Last Words #4

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over7

the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour

Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Elo-i, elo-i, lama

Sa-bach-tha-ni?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou

forsaken me?”

The Romans established the ringing of bells for the hours of the day in three-hour segments. Jews in Jerusalem and diaspora adjusted their prayer times to this custom, and the bible tells us that the apostles go to the Temple at the assigned times for prayer. Early Christians prayed the Our Father at the 1st, 3rd, 6th,  9th hours:

6 am, 9 am, noon, 3 pm — and these became the basis for the Divine Office still followed today in the Roman and Eastern Churches as set times for prayer. In the Byzantine tradition, the First Hour – daylight – God creates the world. 3rd Hour: Descent of the Holy Spirit. 6th hour: Crucifixion.  9th Hour: Death of Jesus.

Mark writes that there was darkness until the 9th hour, which is marked by Jesus’ scream: not a crying out, but a scream.

Matthew writes that from the 6th hour to 9th there was darkness, and then Jesus’ scream comes from the Cross.

Luke says that around the 9th hour the sun eclipsed, casting the city into darkness.

Darkness. Since ancient times, man has feared the dark. We light fires to keep away the darkness and all the things that can hide in the dark and hurt us.

An eclipse can not happen at Passover because the earth is between the sun and moon then. The darkness is rather of God’s making and direct intervention. God is intervening dramatically on Calvary now and in the Temple. We try to fix the gospel stories to fit human historical events – sometimes that works, but sometimes it does not. This eclipse, this darkness over the holy city, provides physical evidence to show God as the ruler of time and nature.

Darkness was invoked by some of the prophets predicting the messiah, and the first Christians were very aware of this.

Zephaniah 1:15: day of wrath, a day of darkness and gloom.

Joel 2:2: It is near, a day of darkness and gloom.

Joel 3:4 The sun will be turned to darkness, at the coming of the great and terrible day of the  Lord.

Amos 8:9-10: the sun shall set at midday, and the light shall be darkened in the daytime. I will make them mourn as for an only son and bring their day to a bitter end.

There is nothing worse for human beings than darkness, for with it comes fear of the unknown and unseen. Civilization began with fire: cooking food and a light to chase away the darkness.

Earlier remember that the Jewish leaders wanted a sign: come off the cross. They wanted a sign? Now God gives a sign and He gives it bluntly. Darkness for three long hours causing anxiety and fear on that Passover day of joy, an earthquake, rocks ripped apart, and this incredible heart-rending scream from the man on the central cross in Jerusalem which to the ancients was the center of the world, from the cross whose wood stabbed Death in its heart.

Jesus’ screams in the darkness surely rock the crowd, the soldiers, because this is not an ordinary tortured cry from a prisoner. Rather, all are sensing God’s wrath is upon Jerusalem. Darkness was one of the plagues on Egypt. Those who reject the Messiah say in Wisdom 5:6 the sun did not rise upon us. Now, tonight, we explore that fearsome darkness on Golgotha, in which Jesus raised himself up on those pierced feet twisted by that huge spike and screams – he cries out with all the force he can possibly muster from those tortured lungs and that dry, dry throat and broken mouth. Those who mocked him wanted a sign – Mark says now here is their sign.

If someone speaks more than one language, usually in times of stress that person will revert to the one he considers to be his mother tongue. Thus Jesus does this great cry, this awesome “why?” in Aramaic, and the gospels preserved it as such when written in Greek or any other tongue, as we do today in all modern bibles. Jesus learned absolute obedience, begun in Gethsemane, in this prayer. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus who has lived in such union with God the Father, for the first time feels his absence – at the worst possible moment. He does not say Abba. He uses instead the words of a servant. It is ripped out of him. Jesus is still praying though – out of all the possible ways of expressing this desolation, he chooses Ps 22, verse 2.

There is a traditional teaching -that this is because he wants to say the whole psalm, which is a triumphant one in the end where the messiah rules. If so, why doesn’t he choose another verse? Well, most of the verses are pretty poignant cries from the suffering servant of God. Here are some of those verses: this is what you have to go through to get to the triumphant end, and these all sprang to the minds of the Jewish listeners as so appropriate to what they are witnessing.

Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!” The leaders wanted their own version rescue, not God’s version. How often do we do put such demands on God?

Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. – the mystery of this parish’s title – the incarnation that happened when Mary said Yes at the Annunciation. And also the reality for every prophet, and every child of God.

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. – a lost child, an adult dying in fear, J on this awful splintered bloody cross.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; this leads to the next word of next week, I thirst. And here Jesus naked on the cross looking at his stretched tortured body in such an agonizing position: and the soldiers below:

I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.  The action of the soldiers under Jesus as they cast dice for the robe his mother made for him; the mocking from all the leaders and soldiers of both temple and Rome.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. – God hears Jesus – and there are results –and immediately after the promise of this verse, here’s the triumph.

The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. – each of us will go into the dust – grant that we do live for you.

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, – indeed – this story has been repeated constantly.

and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it. The Gentiles of old and of today – us.

Why not one of those verses? I think because He wants us to know by using the first incredibly sad verse, He will identify with every one of us who faces doubts in the years after Him – He knows what we feel, and He points to the solution.

After the scream and those painfully pronounced words, I think that He cries in that awful darkness, but He has expressed both utter loneliness that unites Him to every human who will die after him, but also it is truly the fulfillment of that traditional teaching: He trusts that the Father will hear Him, will act, will somehow deliver Him.

Who has not found themselves in this position? Even some children have had moments in life where they feel that they are suddenly all alone, that their parents don’t understand, their friends don’t, their teacher doesn’t, maybe even God doesn’t. But in that horrible moment of alone-ness, God is still present, as we will see immediately.

When Jesus was rejected at Nazareth, he could have called on his angels to help – but he walked thru them (the crowd parted, like the waters of the Red Sea).

When Jesus was in the garden, he could have fled from the cup – but he does not, because the mission must be fulfilled.

At Pilate’s court he says he could call for twelve legions of angels, an incredible amount of heavenly messengers and divine forces, but he does not.

And now … no one can share in this death. No one can understand what it is to suffer like this for the entire human race and in such horrible agony in muscles, nerves, and bleeding.

He never abandoned the Father during his quest on earth, beginning at twelve years of age. And in this horrible moment he thinks in his humanity that He is alone. But what does Matthew say happens? The earth shakes, the rocks split apart, the tombs of the saints open up because the dead have heard his scream, and worst of all, the sanctuary curtain is ripped apart, from the top to the bottom.

The mockers had said he said the temple would be destroyed and he would restore it in three days – well, the temple is ripped apart now by the hand of God. God responds VIGOROUSLY to J’s scream – Jesus is not forgotten at all. And he is angry and sad. Elisha, when Elijah departed the earth, tore Elijah’s precious cloak into two pieces, and now God tears the sanctuary curtain into two pieces with His hand for Matthew says it is from the top down. The sanctuary is no longer veiled as a holy place – God has left. In Ezekiel 10 God left because the Jews allowed idolatrous acts to take place in the temple, and then God used the Babylonians to destroy the desecrated temple. In a Jewish apocryphal work written after the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70, an angel tears the veil and a voice says “Enter enemies and come adversaries, for He who guarded the house has left it.”

In the gospels there is no voice, but the sudden and immediate action of God ripping the curtain from the top down gives voice to the feelings of God. Those who read Mark’s gospel at the time of the Roman siege and then destruction of the temple surely believed that this was indeed fulfillment of Jesus’ warnings because that earliest of all gospels is written before the disasters of the year 70. In Matthew, the rocks are ripped apart and the tombs of the holy ones open up. In Luke the ripping happens before Jesus dies, joined to the darkness that engulfs the city and a positive response to Jesus’ cry on the cross. In Luke the tearing of the veil is a warning to the Jewish leaders that they cannot continue to reject Jesus and his teaching as brought by the apostles and first converts who went into the temple daily to pray as we see in Luke’s 2nd book, Acts of the Apostles. But they fail to heed the warning, and as St Stephen is being killed in Acts, he tells the leaders that God has left the sanctuary. There is a period of grace to understand what they did and to repent, and indeed thousands converted, but the main religious and political leadership do not, and thus Jerusalem will be destroyed.

Either way, the tearing of the veil is a vindication of the suffering Jesus alone, naked, whipped by the wind, struggling in darkness to see those who loved him and who were his own, and who screamed in fear and pain and isolation.

When someone says to me, no one understands my pain – I tell them they are foolish, for God most definitely does since he understood the pain of Jesus in the worst dying possible.

Tonight at the station of the crucifixion and then immediately going to the lowering from the cross – remember all that transpires in those hours.


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