(full reading: Mark 14.1 - 15.47)
This Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week when, all over the world, the Church thinks deeply about the events of Jesus' dying and rising to new life. This Sunday we hear two Gospel readings: Jesus entering Jerusalem while the crowds wave palm branches, and St. Mark's whole account of Jesus' Passion, beginning before the Last Supper and continuing to his death. There is a lot to wonder about.
The account of the Passion is very long. Every year as we listen to the events drawing Jesus closer to death, we hope something different will occur.
We hope that Judas will hear Jesus call him "Friend," and will steer the soldiers away in another direction. But Judas says no.
We hope that Peter will say, "Yes, of course I know that man! I love Jesus!" But Peter says no.
We hope that someone--Pilate? the crowd? the soldiers?--will stop and say, "This is ridiculous. This man has done no wrong. Let him go." But no one says this. They all say no.
It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.
We remember the wise men who come after Jesus is born, looking for the child who is born "King of the Jews." What would they think if they could see him now?
Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”
Jesus never said that he would destroy the temple, the most holy place in Jerusalem. But he knew that something most holy would be destroyed. And it is happening now.
Come down, they say. We want him to come down, too.
In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
Couldn't he just come down for a moment or two, just to show them? He could say, "See, I can save myself, but I choose not to. I choose to give my whole life to God." Why doesn't he do that?
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At 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?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And 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.”
Now we are not the only ones who hope that something different will happen. Even people in the crowd want to see if help will come. But no help comes down. It seems like the darkness that is covering the whole land is stronger than the light. It seems like all the voices saying, "NO!" are too loud.
Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
Jesus dies on the cross. He is not pretending; it is not a trick. His body is destroyed. The curtain in the temple, the most holy place in Jerusalem, is destroyed, too. The darkness has won.
What does a curtain do? We close curtains when we want to keep out the sun or to make sure no one can see through the window. Curtains block out the light. So, what happens when a curtain is torn in two? What happens when a curtain is destroyed?
The curtain in the temple separates the Holy of Holies, the place where God is, from the rest of the world. When Jesus gives his whole life on the cross, that curtain is destroyed. His loud cry with his last breath, his YES to God, drowns out all the other voices. Now what separates God from the world? Jesus has come down to the world to let the Light in forever.
The Gospel does not end this week with the Resurrection. We do not hear this week that Jesus rises from the dead. But St. Mark knows that it happens, and we know, too. The curtain separating God from us is destroyed. The Light can come in. We can say, with the Roman soldier,
“Truly this man is God’s Son!”