44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land* until three in the afternoon, 45while the sun’s light failed;* and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. 47When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’* 48And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Jesus was the light of the world – when the light of the world was being taken away, there was darkness over the land. It looked as if the forces of darkness were winning. We do not need to postulate an eclipse or a volcanic eruption spreading ash – the darkness was spiritual, a darkness of the souls. Certainly a spiritual darkness can manifest itself as physical darkness – haven’t you ever been in a truly dark place in your life where you were unable to tolerate the sunlight? Luke says this darkness lasted until three in the afternoon, while even the sun’s light failed.
And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. The curtain of the temple separated the Holy of Holies, the place where the Jewish people believed God dwelled, from the rest of the temple, from the people. Only the high priest could enter beyond the curtain. The tearing of the curtain is symbolic – some say it indicates that God has left the temple, due to the events taking place on the cross; others say that it indicates that through Christ’s action on the cross, the way is open for all of us to meet with God. Perhaps it is both-and. The way to salvation is not behind a curtain (reminiscent of Oz), but open to all through God’s grace, and the love of Christ.
And finally, Luke reports Jesus’ final words, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Here is no longer agony, there is not defeat, Jesus quotes Psalm 31:5, and expresses serenity, acceptance, and trust. Jesus trusts that he will shortly be with God.
The Roman Centurion, in charge of the crucifixions that day, saw how this particular man died – and in his death, he saw something more. Luke says the Centurion said, “Surely, this man was innocent.” And the crowds, who had come to see the spectacle, to deride him, to mock him, to be entertained by the blood and gore (don’t mock, we do that as well – just look at our sports, our games, our movies), all of them saw something in Jesus’ death that they weren’t expecting; they went home grieving and repentant (beating their breasts).
In Luke, Jesus’ followers are not in hiding; they are watching, from a distance. The women are with those watching. What are they feeling? How terrible their grief! This one person who had given them love and respect; this Messiah whom they had followed – he had died. No angels had come to stop his crucifixion; no great army of bones had risen up as it had for Elijah. He had died, there on the cross, and they are heart-broken.