Jesus died alone; We never will
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Friday, March 27th: Psalm 130; Ezekiel 33:10-16; and Revelation 11:15-19. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
It’s another Lenten Friday. My thoughts on these Fridays are especially drawn to Jesus’ cross. Mark’s is the oldest Gospel. Part of the reason why scholars believe this to be the case is that it is the least adorned. Compare the Jesus in Mark with the Johannine Jesus from the latest Gospel and you can see “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3) transform into “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) Mark does not shy away from unpleasantries: “When his family heard of it, they went out to restrain [Jesus], for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’” (Mark 3:21) The other Evangelists found this passage far too scandalous to repeat.
If you have the time and inclination, read the crucifixion accounts in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Notice their differences. Notice that Mark’s is the least adorned of them all. Read in Mark 15 that Simon of Cyrene is a stranger who must be “compelled” to help Jesus carry His cross because the authorities did not want Jesus to die before they could publicly torture Him.
Note that Jesus is crucified between “two bandits” who “also taunted him,” neither of which is the “good thief” who sympathizes with Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus could not find solace by looking to either side. Below Him the crowds passing-by casually on their way to the festival mock Jesus. The priests and the scribes mock Him too, but intentionally.
Jesus cannot even find relief as He looks above. In the most pitiful of all passages, Jesus yells toward heaven, “‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Then Jesus dies, not with solemn words, but with only a lonely, desperate, final “loud cry.”
There is no one around Jesus’ cross to offer a sympathetic gaze or word. Only “from a distance” are some women disciples watching, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome. Jesus dies alone. He faces the whole fearful torment of our mortality. God experiences the terrors and uncertainties of death as one of us.
You wonder why, and then yesterday I read the story in the Boston Globe about an Episcopal priest who died from the Corona Virus. “[The Rev. Richard Ottaway] died just after midnight on Monday in Cape Cod Hospital, unable to have any visitors, with a Bible in his hands. … It is a hard thing for his family that they could not be with him in the hospital due to illness and the risk of infection. And they are keenly aware of the ironic tragedy that someone who had ministered to so many people near death died without family around him.”
Fr. Ottaway was not alone. The “ironic tragedy” that the family mentioned is heartfelt and their sorrow real. This “ironic tragedy” is also Jesus’ story. And because it is, Jesus was with Fr. Ottaway because Jesus faced down alone and faced down death. Jesus faced death alone so that we never would. The priest holding that Bible symbolizes that not even forced isolation and death can separate us from the love of Christ. That’s the meaning of the cross.
Faith, love and chitchat.
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