“33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lemá sabachtháni?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
35 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “Look, He’s calling for Elijah!” 36 Someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, fixed it on a reed, offered Him a drink, and said, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take Him down!”
37 But Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed His last. 38 Then the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom. 39 When the centurion, who was standing opposite Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “This man really was God’s Son!”
40 There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When He was in Galilee, they would follow Him and help Him. Many other women had come up with Him to Jerusalem.”
There were many witnesses to the death of Jesus. The city was buzzing at fever pitch because of the holiday of Passover, the occupying Roman force was undoubtedly doubled for the occasion. Vendors and merchants from all around surely filled every nook and cranny where they could set up shops and stalls to feed the needs and wants of the thronging crowds. If you’ve ever been to a supermarket the morning of holiday, or out shopping the day before Christmas, you know what chaos these situations bring. Add in the fact that executions like this were done in high-traffic areas to stand as an example to others, mixed in with the morbid fascination of the dawdler and on-looker, and you find a very visible and public death happening here for our Master.
There couldn’t have been a busier day for this to happen. God had designed this moment, He had perfectly plotted out the timing. This highly visible moment of excruiating pain was in no way accidental or coincidental. God chose to finish things in this way, with maximum effectiveness.
Visitors to Jerusalem would be here for days and experience the full measure of the situation. They would all know about the executions, they would all hear about the oddity of a tomb being guarded and they would hear from the apostles and others about this now vacant tomb in the days that followed. Three hours of darkness at midday are hard to ignore. The story of Jesus would have been thick in their air, and it would travel home with them wherever they were going.
God made this finishing stroke happen in a way that would not be quickly or easily denied. Those looking to ritual in the temple, instead of to the sacrifice that God offered on Calvary, could not ignore the impossible tearing of the curtain and the exposure of the Holy of Holies. They couldn’t ignore the earthquake or the darkness. God was speaking through the blood of His own sacrificial Lamb, and He would have their attention.
This finishing move, His checkmate on death and sin, would get full press.
And Jesus, faithful in every way, would continue in His pain to fulfill Scripture. Quoting the prophetic Psalm 22, receiving the vinegar wine, and yelling out the victorious statement that completed the whole, Jesus pointed faithfully to the Father, fulfilling His labors and then gave up His Spirit. In His moment of death, He provided a witness that even a Roman solider couldn’t deny, truly He was God’s Son.
His life, ministry and witness to God’s glory inspired this group of women to faithfulness, along with the Apostle John, to stand and keep watch over Him and to mourn His suffering at the cruel hands of the Romans and the cruel hearts of the Jewish leaders.
As we remember what Jesus di, we cannot forget that God did everything to make sure people would know the extent of His love. As we GoLove, then, in His Name, we must be sure to be just as visible, just as open and just as vocal about what He has done so that all eyes, hearts and minds are drawn to Him. The work of Christ was finished on the cross, but the work of the empty tomb is not finished until He returns and completes His victory.
We do not rest until that moment.
“1 The Lord spoke to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites and say to them: ‘Be sure to present to Me at its appointed time My offering and My food as My fire offering, a pleasing aroma to Me.’ 3 And say to them: ‘This is the fire offering you are to present to the Lord:
Each day present two unblemished year- old male lambs as a regular burnt offering. 4 Offer one lamb in the morning and the other lamb at twilight, 5 along with two quarts of fine flour for a grain offering mixed with a quart of olive oil from crushed olives.’ 6 It is a regular burnt offering established at Mount Sinai for a pleasing aroma, a fire offering to the Lord.””
And along with these daily sacrifices, there was a double sacrifice for each Sabbath, and then monthly offerings as well. In total, each month would see about 75 lambs, two young bulls and a ram, in addition to all the drink and grain offerings. This does not include the possibility of a festival or holy day during that month, which would then increase the work of the priests and the people depending on what is to be done. Every day, every weekend and every month there was a constant line of sacrifices going through the tabernacle, a constant aroma of incense and burnt offerings, trumpets, prayers and songs, all being offered up to God as part of the worship His people would give Him.
And this wasn’t a dull, dusty, ritualistic, just-because-you-have-to type of faith. No. God set this all up to first bring honor and glory to Himself because He is worthy, but He also did this so we would have a way to interact with Him, to fulfill that primary component of our humanity, which is to worship Him with every facet of our being. There were always going to be daily, weekly and monthly opportunities to lift God up in praise. There were always going to be times of extra worship, celebration and somber remembrance.
God has blessed us with a faith that goes with us daily, that is always wafting around us, like the smoke in the Israelite camp. Little whiffs, aromas, that remind us of Him all throughout the day. A rhythm of worship, sacrifice, prayer, praise and His love, established to make that all important connection between the Maker and the made, the Shepherd and His sheep.
Again, every moment of it is meant for His glory, and is intended to be worship for Him. It -is- all about Him, after all. We benefit from this because this is what we were made for, and so our hearts find fulfillment, deep, lasting fulfillment, in worship.
As we GoLove others in the Name of Jesus, our lives should be a reflection of our acknowledgement that this is indeed our purpose. We should live lives of worship, praise, prayer, sacrifice, and all done in love of the One who first loved us. That sacrificial life is a clarion call above the pride and selfishness of the world, and the sinful behavior of mankind. We have been made for something far greater, and we will never find fulfillment until we find it in worship of our Great King, Jesus.
“9 Then the Lord spoke to Moses: 10 Tell the Israelites: When any one of you or your descendants is unclean because of a corpse or is on a distant journey, he may still observe the Passover to the Lord. 11 Such people are to observe it in the second month, on the fourteenth day at twilight. They are to eat the animal with unleavened bread and bitter herbs; 12 they may not leave any of it until morning or break any of its bones. They must observe the Passover according to all its statutes.
13 But the man who is ceremonially clean, is not on a journey, and yet fails to observe the Passover is to be cut off from his people, because he did not present the Lords offering at its appointed time. That man will bear the consequences of his sin.”
There are several components that go into our worship that are essential and should not be neglected. Worship is an act of service to our Great God, and seeing that we were created to be creatures of worship it should be our top priority in life. And while we can worship God in so many ways, our worship of Him with our community, our corporate worship, is not to be neglected, pushed aside or replaced for or with anything else.
These men in Numbers 9 recognized that and didn’t want to be left out of something so special to the community and vital to their identity. They were ceremonially unclean, not by choice, but out of necessity, because they had just buried someone close to them. But they knew and respected the Law of God that said that His worship must be pure and perfect.
And so they came to Moses with their quandary, seeking how they might honor God properly and still be a part of the community, and The Lord responded to the desires of their hearts.
As Christians, we should seek to honor God in this same way, not making excuses or only attending church if we don’t have something ‘better’ to do, not honoring self and worshipping sleep, because ‘it’s so hard to get up and be ready on Sundays.’
That attitude is simply an indicator that God’s priorities are not your priorities and that He is not one either.
God is to be honored first. We worship Him in spirit and in truth, and we set Him as our first priority over all else. If we are going to truly walk with Christ, following His commission and command to GoLove, then we must keep that priority straight and give Him the pure worship of our lives.
“And a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), a man from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain. It was the preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. Now the women who had come with Him out of Galilee followed, and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes.
And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.”
Luke 23:50, 51, 53-56 NASB
Emotionally, the disciples needed a sabbath. As much as they had been through in the past 24 hours, their hearts were shattered. Minds numb, bodies exhausted from crying, they sat around in different corners of the room doing what all of us do when we mourn. They cried. They stated blankly at the wall. They tried to remember through the events and sift for clues to see what they could have done differently. They blamed themselves, they blamed others. They especially blamed Judas.
But for all their talk and ‘what if’s’ they still weren’t listening to the words Jesus had spoken to them.
Sure, they remembered His claims that He would be handed over and executed, but that never seemed right. Maybe He was just being dramatic or speaking in metaphors again. But it really happened. He was dead. Wrapped up, sealed away in the ground. Dead.
He had been the One to disrupt funerals and raise the dead. But never anything like this…
‘I guess I get my boat out of dry dock and start fishing again.’
‘Maybe I can start back at the tax office.’
‘I hope my father-in-law has a job for me.’
Friday night turns into Saturday morning and someone finally realizes they haven’t eaten since the Passover meal. Not really hungry, but not knowing what else to do, they share some matzah and cold lamb. They weren’t supposed to leave any of it after the meal, but Jesus didn’t even drink the fourth cup, they never finished the Seder…
‘I guess we jut wait until the coast is clear and we all head home.’
‘Yeah, whatever “home” means now…’
‘I know, nothing’s ever going to feel right anymore.’
And so they waited.
And we wait, too.
As Dr. Campolo is famous for saying (among other things),
“It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”
“Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.”
“When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.”
Matthew 27:1, 2, 12-14 NIV
With every year that passes, it becomes that much easier to feel the quick passage of time. Days and weeks zip by, I blink and a month has passed, and I’m just in my late 30’s. When, Lord willing, I reach my 60’s and beyond, I’m imagining it must almost be a blur.
Be then there are days, that for good or bad reasons, seem to stretch on forever. Anticipation of a celebration or of seemingly bad news or even times to mourn can take one of our light-speed days and drag it out into eternity.
When Jesus and His disciples were making their way into Jerusalem on what we call Maundy Thursday, I wonder how long that walk took in His mind. When He was approaching the gates of the Holy City, I wonder if He looked off toward the direction of Golgotha and felt compelled to rub His wrists and forehead. I wonder if the chatter of His disciples faded into so much garbled mumbling as His mind ran through prophecies and the nature of the Roman’s brutality. Did He look at their smiles and hear the joy in the people flooding into the city and find Himself pleasantly distracted for a few moments?
What was Thursday like?
Did He have that feeling in the pit of His stomach that we all get when we know we are waiting for punishment? Was He already beginning to feel that for us? Was this day full of tangible reminders of joy and pain? Did He see legitimate and sincere worshipers mixed in among the disgruntled and greedy? Did He think about how worship was supposed to be, and how The Father longed to be close to His children? Did He see the sneers of the doubters and the haughty glances of the proud and the injustices done to the poor as He walked those streets that morning? Did He pick our the roads and pathways that He would carry His cross down, anticipating difficult stretches and tight passageways?
What was Thursday like?
Was it this full day being confronted with the mass of humanity in this one city that drove it all home for Him? When He would say, “I am sorrowful to the point of death.” Were the events of the day and the faces He saw still fresh in His mind?
When day turned into night and they began the Passover meal, and He finally sat down to this last Passover with His friends, and He said, “I have greatly anticipated this Passover meal.” Was that because it meant that Thursday was finally almost over? Were the strands of His mind, threads of love, justice, anticipation, grace, hope, prophecy, truth, were they all streaming around all simultaneously present and noticed yet difficult to grasp?
What was Thursday like?
To assume He walked through the day like a passive observer, indifferent to the crowds and the weather and the noises and smells, that He wasn’t affected by the events of the coming days and that He was some stoic, unfeeling wall…that denies the man in Him, and to say He didn’t care denies the divine in Him.
As the meal ends, feet washed and Judas long gone, and they make their way to the garden to pray and as the darkness of night sinks in, I still wonder, what was Thursday like?
Because we get a full picture, in Technicolor and CinemaScope of what Friday brings. Because by the time He reaches Pilate, we can see that He is focused, He is now in the midst of events that all of human history had been leading up to, and love guides Him, mercy steers Him and grace propels Him forward. And as terrible as Good Friday is, we all who stand with Him stand thankful, appreciative and amazed at grace.
This Thursday, today, let the events of Christ’s Thursday dwell in your mind, anticipating what tomorrow brings, and GoLove as you have been so richly loved.
“Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”
“And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
“And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
Matthew 26:38, 40-41, 43-46 ESV
Going to stay a week at the monastery every August is becoming one of my favorite times of the year. The simplicity of the days, the set times of prayer all throughout setting the routine and tempo for your moments is wonderful. Seeing that I am not catholic, there are a few things I do not take part in. I don’t pray to the angels or to Mary while I am there. But the singing of the the psalms, the reading of the Word, the time of reflection is like a soothing balm to my heart.
By far, my favorite prayer times are the last and the first each day. The final prayer time, ‘Compline’ thanks God for His guiding hand in your day, and asks for restful sleep in Him. The first, ‘Vigils’, is meant to mirror this passage of Scripture that we read today. Growing up in the independent Christian Church, there have been some terms that were not used that are spoken regularly in some of the other, more formal, gatherings of the Church. And this is one of them, ‘to keep watch with Christ.’
That account is familiar, as it should be, but to -actually- keep watch with Christ, like at 3:15 in the morning? That never came up as something to actually do, to experience, and having spent the time doing it, I have to say it is immensely valuable. At 3:15 in the morning, once you have stirred and set to moving, your mind is remarkably clear.to spend that time focused on Him, beginning your day in prayer and thanksgiving…I didn’t mind that in the least.
But here, in Matthew 26, it isn’t a new discipline the disciples are trying to undertake. They have just finished the Passover meal, there have been songs sung, stories shared, great things remembered and strange things beginning to happen (Where did Judas go? Who was Jesus talking about betraying Him? Why would Peter, of all people, deny Him?) and so they fell asleep from the wear and tear of the day.
As we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday this weekend, we know what is coming. We know who the betrayer is, and what comes from Peter’s denial. We have the benefit of the full account in our hearts and in the Word. But for the disciples, we watch this unfolding for them in real time, and we see the reactions of each as they all eventually run away on this fateful night.
To keep watch with Christ, we must devote our hearts to Him, even when it isn’t easy. Even when our eyes are heavy or our minds burdened with questions. To keep watch with Christ, we put aside religion and repetition, and instead we focus on spending time with our Master, asking Him to guide our hearts into greater understanding, that we may contemplate His suffering and the moments leading up to it. That we may seek to grasp Hs heart and the will of the Father at work in Him. That then, in turn, we look into our own difficulties, our own struggles, and seeking His example, we learn that His strength to do the Father’s will is something He offers to us. That, in keeping watch with Christ, we come to understand, feel and know that He also keeps watch with us as we sit in those still, dark hours of the night when sleep eludes us and worries come crashing down on our hearts. And that we take this example, and learn what it means to GoLove others by keeping watch with them in their hours of need, as this is simply a part of what we do and who we are as the bride of Christ.
To keep watch is a part of living love, it shows care, companionship and compassion. Pray that God guides your heart to keep watch this week as we remember the suffering and glory of our Master, Jesus.