Gospel reading: Matthew 27:45-56
45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" that is, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 47 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, "This man is calling Eli'jah." 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Eli'jah will come to save him." 50 And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; 52 the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, "Truly this was the Son of God!" 55 There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him; 56 among whom were Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zeb'edee.
Meditation: The cross brings us face to face with Jesus' suffering. He was alone -- all his disciples had deserted him except for his mother and three women along with John, the beloved disciple. And his death was agonizing and humiliating. Normally a crucified man could last for several days on a cross. Jesus' had already been scourged, beaten with rods, and a crown of thorns pressed into his skull. It is no wonder that he died mid-afternoon. Mark graphically describes the end as a "darkness over the whole land" (15:33). This was Satan's hour as he saw the Son of God dying on the cross. But that death was also his undoing. Through his obedience unto death, Jesus reversed the curse of Adam's disobedience and won freedom and pardon for us. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24).
One of the great consequences of sin is that it separates us from God. Since Jesus bore the weight of our sins upon himself, he experienced in his agony on the cross what that separation was like. That is why he prayed out the words of Psalm 22: "My God, my God, what have you forsaken me?" This is a Messianic psalm which foretells the suffering which Jesus underwent: "they have pierced my hands and feet -- I can count all my bones -- they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them" (22:16-18). And it ends on a note of triumph and vindication: "Posterity shall serve him; men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, and roclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, that he has wrought it" (22:31).
As Jesus expired he cried out a "loud shout". Both Matthew and Luke mention this shout (Matt. 27:50 and Luke 23:46). John tells us that Jesus died with these words on his lips, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" (John 19:30). These parting words express triumph rather than defeat. Jesus bowed his head and gave up his spirit knowing that the strife was now over and the battle was won. Even on the cross Jesus knew the joy of victory. What the Father sent him into the world to do has now been accomplished. Christ offered himself without blemish to God and he put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (see Hebrews 9:24-26). We can find no greater proof of God's love for us than the willing sacrifice of his Son on the cross. "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 15:55-57)
Augustine, the great 5th century church father, urges us to contemplate the love of God incarnate on the cross: "As they were looking on, so we too gaze on his wounds as he hangs. We see his blood as he dies. We see the price offered by the redeemer, touch the scars of his resurrection. He bows his head, as if to kiss you. His heart is made bare open, as it were, in love to you. His arms are extended that he may embrace you. His whole body is displayed for your redemption. Ponder how great these things are. Let all this be rightly weighed in your mind: as he was once fixed to the cross in every part of his body for you, so he may now be fixed in every part of your soul." [GMI 248]
In the cross of Christ we see the triumph of Jesus over his enemies -- sin, Satan, and death. Christian writers down through the centuries have sung the praises of the Cross of Christ. Paul the Apostle exclaimed, "But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14). "A few drops of blood renew the whole world!" Hear what Gregory Nazianzen, a 6th century church father, has to say: "Many indeed are the wondrous happenings of that time: God hanging from a cross, the sun made dark and again flaming out; for it was fitting that creation should mourn with its creator. The temple veil rent, blood and water flowing from his side: the one as from a man, the other as from what was above man; the earth shaken, the rocks shattered because of the rock; the dead risen to bear witness to the final and universal resurrection of the dead. The happenings at the sepulcher and after the sepulcher, who can fittingly recount them? Yet no one of them can be compared to the miracle of my salvation. A few drops of blood renew the whole world, and do for all men what the rennet does for the milk: joining us and binding us together. [On the Holy Pasch, Oration 45.1]
Abbot Rupert of Deutz, wrote in the early 12th century: "The cross of Christ is the door to heaven, the key to paradise, the downfall of the devil, the uplifting of mankind, the consolation of our imprisonment, the prize for our freedom." The Cross of Christ is the safeguard of our faith, the assurance of our hope, and the throne of love. It is also the sign of God's mercy and the proof of forgiveness. By his cross Jesus has redeemed our sin and atoned for our punishment. The way to peace, joy, and righteousness in the kingdom of God and the way to victory over sin, despair, and death is through the cross of Jesus Christ. Do you willingly follow Jesus in his way of the cross with joy, hope, and confidence?
"Lord Jesus Christ, by your death on the cross you have won pardon for
us and freedom from the tyranny of sin and death. May I live in the joy
and freedom of your victory over sin and death."