From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around mid-afternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Some bystanders who heard him said, “He’s calling for Elijah.” One of them ran and got a sponge soaked in sour wine and lifted it on a stick so he could drink. The others joked, “Don’t be in such a hurry. Let’s see if Elijah comes and saves him.”
But Jesus, again crying out loudly, breathed his last.
At that moment, the Temple curtain was ripped in two, top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks were split in pieces. What’s more, tombs were opened up, and many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised. (After Jesus’ resurrection, they left the tombs, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.)
The captain of the guard and those with him, when they saw the earthquake and everything else that was happening, were scared to death. They said, “This has to be the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:45-54 MSG)
It was not an uncommon Friday.
Crucifixion was the normal punishment of the time. It was cruel, humiliating, and served as a visible warning to all who witnessed the agonizing deaths of those hoisted on splintered wood. It was reserved for the worst of the worst, often preceded by scourging – pieces of leather adorned with bits of bone and rock, used to violently lash the criminal and remove skin and sinew. Beaten and bleeding, stripped of all their clothing, those sentenced to the most heinous of deaths would carry their own cross beam to the place where they would be executed, be lifted and nailed into place, and then hang until they could no longer breathe. Some deaths took hours; some took days. The dead were left to be eaten by wild animals if no one came forward to claim them. The nails were gathered and used as healing amulets.
No, it was not an uncommon Friday. Until everything changed.
The earth itself became shadow as darkness veiled the sun. The words were spoken. “It is finished,” as divinity showed its strength. The ground quaked and rocks shattered like glass. Graves broke apart and the dead were given life’s breath one more time. At the holy temple, the veil was torn from top to bottom – a veil 60 feet high, 30 feet wide, and 4 inches thick.
Jesus would refuse the offer of wine and myrrh, a drink offered to dull the pain. Jesus would refuse to condemn those who had condemned Him. Jesus would invite a prisoner into Paradise. Jesus would make sure His family was tended to, and He would forgive – everyone. Jesus would carry with Him everything about humanity’s darkest depths, and let it be stripped and nailed and put to death. And then Jesus would say, “It’s all Yours, God. I’m all yours.”
And the the ones who joined in the chorus of “He deserves the cruelty, the humiliation, the agony – He is the worst of the worst. Crucify Him,” the ones who flogged and lifted and nailed and stood guard, then saw with such rearview clarity.
“Surely, He is the Son of God.”
I wonder what they did then, on that day when everything changed. Did they grieve? Were they angry? Were they consumed with guilt? Did they care at all? Did they consider the rest of the story – the one He had told about dying and then being raised again to life? Did they think about the scriptures they had read, the ancient texts of a Savior and King? Was there, somewhere inside them, a glimmer of hope that perhaps – just perhaps – there was a love more powerful than the grave?
I wonder what I would have done on that Friday, with Sunday not yet in sight. What would you have done?