Mark 15.33 – 41
33When 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!”
40There 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.
They had nailed him to the cross at 9 AM; at Noon, the sixth hour, everything became dark – Mark says darkness covered the whole land. There have been many proposals about physical darkness (there was not an eclipse at that time, which has been proposed – perhaps dark clouds blocked the sun, or ash from a volcanic eruption, or some other natural phenomena), but consider the metaphorical meanings of darkness. Jesus was the light of the world – the world conspired to kill him, to remove the light; without him there is no light. We all walk in darkness. Light reveals truth, darkness covers and hides and allows evil and lies. Thus, as the life seeped away from the light of the world, from God’s own Son, evil and darkness claimed the victory.
At 3 PM, the ninth hour, Jesus cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (El is the ancient Hebrew word for God, used in place of YHWH at times in the Scripture – we see it as a prefix of other words for God, “El Shaddai” for example; here, the prefix “El” is attached to “oi” meaning “me” or “My”.) Remember yesterday we said Mark was drawing our attention to the 22nd Psalm? Here, Jesus himself calls to God, praying the words of that very Psalm, which begins, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Mark says Jesus cries out these words – that would have been an act of immense courage! One dies of crucifixion by suffocation – the position requires an intentional lifting of the rib cage against the body weight, through great pain, for breathing. When the body becomes exhausted, one can no longer breathe. Crying out, Jesus used precious breath to speak to God!
Those standing around, however, hear only the “El” and think he is crying for Elijah. Wanting to hear more, they filled a sponge with sour wine (other sources translate this as vinegar), stuck it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But instead, Jesus gave a loud cry (using his last breath) and breathed his last.
And the curtain of the temple was torn in two – there was an elaborate curtain in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies, the place of God, from the worshippers. Only the high priest could enter that area, and he only once a year. The curtain representing separation of humanity from God is torn asunder at Jesus’ death; he opens the way for us to relate directly to God.
The centurion in charge of the soldiers was there, at the foot of the cross, this entire time. It should have been an ordinary experience for him; he had crucified lots of men. But when he saw how Jesus died, he fell on his knees before the cross, and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” In Mark’s gospel he is the first human being to recognize Jesus as God’s Son – the demons he cast out had known him; Peter had called him the Messiah, the Christ; but just as it was soldiers who first acknowledged him as king, although mocking, it was also one of those who killed him, a Roman soldier, who first acknowledged him as God’s Son. Mark intends us to see the irony in that!
Pictures are the place of the cross – the altar- at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; and the place of the skull at the Garden Tomb.