When Life and the World Grows Dark…
In the cool early morn around fires warm, a solitary disciple loiters, curious, fearful, confused. Peter, alone of the boys on the first 11 (Judas defected and gave up his place), stands within distance of Jesus in this strange time and he waits, uncertainly, trying to make sense of this escalating mess. Snapped out of his reverie, a voice clear as a bell accuses this Peter of knowing that One – a Galilean of course. ‘Sorry young woman, I don’t know that man.’ Three times! Three times he creates this scene and then in the morning light a cock crows and the signal sounds like a detonated device going off in his mind – ‘Before the rooster crows, three times you will deny me!’ ‘No, never! Not if everyone else fails will I leave you!’ but now I have and I have finally irrevocably failed and understood my failure to understand and know this one and his way. I despair in my lostness, my failure. This worst sin is of despair and not realising his grace to forgive the repentant, genuine heart crying out for release. But the tears and grief reveal a heart sorrowful, repentant and true – ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ the words echo through the stories of people brought into this place and receiving forgiveness and life from this one and this God.
It is, looking back, ‘Good Friday’ morn. ‘Good?’ Why ‘Good?’ Perhaps sad, horrific, violent, dark… but ‘Good?’ Our hymns are so full of glory and wonder on this dreadful day. We sentimentalise a death, a life sacrificed in the way of Love and justice, of God. ‘It is for me and my salvation’ and resolves a conflict of afterlife anxiety but doesn’t cut to the deep recesses of this world and God’s vision and will. It doesn’t hear the deeper, more powerful story into which Jesus delved, lived, spoke and embraced, a way of the dying-rising life of God.
There is a well-known, well-used metaphor from Anselm, Canterbury’s Archbishop in 1000 AD. If the King/Lord of local lands had a serious problem with an underlying – everybody who wasn’t him – especially of a criminal, transgression type of thing, he had to act as judge. He had to maintain respect for his name, his title and his distance from the common folk. It would not do to forgive – an act to bring shame upon himself and his office. Punishment necessary and so it would be. But what of the one he wanted to forgive and let be, the one he loved or knew didn’t really deserve this – no mitigating circumstances here, it was right or wrong. To forgive this one, punishment was placed onto another who claimed it and forgiveness received, justice (the King’s!) done. So surely with God – greater than a King and more holy! Crime and punishment go together and justice, in this legalistic sense, makes sense and doesn’t. God had to make claim upon the sinner’s life and punish those who transgressed his way and so Anselm said Jesus was the one, a misused understanding of a scapegoat, perhaps. Anslem makes a lot of legal sense in a time of Kings and Lords and what not but he goes way beyond Mark or Matthew, Luke, John or Paul but we have gathered Anselm’s truth, not metaphorical insight but Divinely proclaimed and miss much of the point of the story’s power to transform a world in the way of God!
Early on that Friday morn, High Priests and others held council to plan the process ahead – get rid of this one before the holy Passover begins. To Pilate he was led, bound and guilty; a lamb to the slaughter is the image we have. ‘Are you the King of the Jews,’ a stupid, concerned, political Pilate asks. Looking upon an already broken, bruised Galilean peasant, this supposed pretender to the local throne – what a joke! ‘So you say,’ says Jesus, nothing more – nothing more in Mark’s story until the cross. The religious mob closes in with accusation and abuse, one passionate cry upon the next! Charge upon charge, so many build up but what to do?
So Pilate puts to this crowd of religious cronies a proposal to release one prisoner as a ‘Passover gift.’ ‘How about this King of the Jews?’ (A more harmless, pathetic sight he can’t imagine – what is wrong with these people??!!). ‘No! We want Barabbas!’ Barabbas, the murderous swine – why would they want him? I made the offer and one lives by one’s word, so ‘What do I do with this pathetic one?’ ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ utters this mob of High Priestly supporters – elites only in Pilate’s place. None of those commoners here to ruin the plot. It all happens in the darkness, behind closed doors with favourable voices, early and suitably fast! The two revolutionaries were pitted side by side, the non-violent prophet of God’s revolutionary Reign against the political insurrectionist, violent and murderous – they chose violence!
The soldiers took delight in a dress up game and forced a thorned crown upon his bruised and bloodied brow. They stripped him and beat him and played game after game. A purple cloak, a ceremony of coronation – ‘All hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck and spat and poured forth bile and offense then led him off to die. All in a morning’s work, now a neat threesome to hang in the sky above this holy, condemned city continuing to kill the prophets and abandon God’s way. The via dolorosa, the way of suffering, is Jesus’ final journey. With cross on his back and soldiers prodding he stumbles and falls, stands and falls again. A passer-by is conscripted into service, a cross bearer in real life, carrying the cross of the one who couldn’t carry his own but helps us with ours – O the irony! The song registers deep and flows through his being, with each step he makes the song keeps him going. It is a love song of God as Divine tears flow at the way we treat fellow humans, injustice and hatred filling hearts and minds. These representatives of God on earth fail beyond imagination to understand and follow the way of God. At Golgotha’s hill, wine mixed with myrrh to tranquilise his pain is refused and discarded and they crucified him. This act of Roman terrorism visited upon insurrectionists and subversives and treasonous revolutionaries who unsettled Rome’s peace. He hung in the air above the city of rejection and the Temple of the God whose heart and soul were here in this One. He was mocked and rebuked by the accusing priestly mob, laughed at by relieved ignoramuses who felt that all would be well in the world – now he was gone.
They cast lots for his clothes and left him for dead – he must have been really bad to end up here on the hill, just another fool… Surely, here on a lonely cross outside the city wall, the story must end. Enough of the nonsense and euphoric sentimental twaddle of this eccentric Messianic pretender who stirred passion and hope where it ought not be stirred. These people need to understand their place and stay there – we don’t need crazy men playing with their hearts and hopes. There are religious ones who know the truth and have the wisdom of the ages (if not God??!!) to rule and lead in their parasitical way and not be questioned by interlopers in Divine clothing from hillside towns of ignorance and stupidity.
There was darkness! Darkness shines its bright hatred, ignorance and painful delight across a land that was hopeful just a few days ago. Where is the celebration now? Where is the clown who rode and entertained our dreams, a bright light of love, peace, fun and hope, extinguished by the power and might of the Roman hatred and violent retort? Darkness across the land as hope fades and human might asserts itself above this vulnerable God and this simple way.
One man came in the name of love/one man he come and go/One man he come to justify/one man to overthrow/In the name of love?/What more in the name of love!/ In the name of love?/What more in the name of love?(U2). This love hung high, lifted above the crowd of mixed emotions – the accusers and the sympathisers and hopeful. The world is winning – will there be a final overcoming twist in the darkness of a world that has turned on (turned off?) the Light. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ his last words in this Markan story. He died – light gone out and a body dead on cold wood in the lengthening shadows of an unholy day of lost goodness and hope.
The Temple curtain that divides everyone else from God has no ongoing importance as God has come close in the life and death of this holy one and when the Temple falls into ruinous catastrophe in the world of Mark, the truth is understood – God’s Reign is very near and all around for those who have ears, eyes and hearts to perceive and grasp and own and live. God dwells in hearts of justice and love, not buildings of stone or the cold embrace of piety removed from compassion and mercy. The centurion proclaims a non-pretender to the Son of God culture of the age – not Caesar but Jesus. This was no ordinary one and we should perceive the greatness and truth in him. Caesar is no longer Lord and Saviour, Son of God and all the rest, but the people make a claim in Jesus’ name.
The body is hurriedly placed in a tomb, out of sight before the holy Sabbath begins. Not prepared but raw and rugged in a roughly hewn cave, left for the women on another day. The sacrifice of Jesus for the way of God, the Reign off liberating love painted in non-violent colours, vulnerable light penetrating darkness, is done. The powers of the world rebel against the way and Reign of God and Jesus is the One caught in the middle, a life given, a love sacrificed into the mystery and ocean-depth love of God. This seed dying in a cold earth to germinate and blossom into a new life of resurrection wonder, mystery and delight – but that is for another day.
These days are long and dark as we ponder the meaning of life lost to injustice and pain, violent might and greedy power of status quo that turns against God. We ponder the way of Jesus through this costly week when powers rage and love lies bleeding. The world overwhelms and destroys at will in violent rejection in fear and hate. We wonder – why? How?
Are there some dark colours you can paint with or a song that emerges from deep in your heart, of the pain and struggle of life lived? Can you breathe Jesus’ words in the garden – ‘Not my will but yours be done…’
Use the questions from previous weeks to help you ponder and reflect more deeply…