When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.”
Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)
The story has been told over and over again through music, movies, theater, and more. The Biblical narrative gets read from pulpits of all denominations. Christians of all races, languages, cultures, and economic statuses eagerly have followed him on a donkey through the city gates of Jerusalem – each bearing hope for what he – Jesus – has done or will do – in a world represented by political dominance and religious angst.
That hope continues to be embodied in the ritual practices of our churches today. Just five days ago, voices were heard singing “Hosannas,” as we experienced the processionals of waving palms, singing choirs, and exuberant children making their way down the aisles. Even modern-day donkeys made appearances in congregations around our nation and world. But as we know, that singing of joy and hope 2,000 years ago turns quickly into whispers in the shadows of the Jerusalem streets as the message of the donkey-rider collides with the messages of both the political and religious authorities of his time. And those whispers become louder until, when faced with the possibility of releasing him, the crowd that once sang, now shouts to Pilate – “crucify him.”
From singing to shouting – the price for following Jesus became too steep, too uncomfortable for the crowd to sustain. The one who made their hearts boldly sing was requiring a pattern of life that would compromise a way of life as they knew it. Following him would cause a conflict within themselves as well as with those in authority – religious and secular. It would require a risk, a risk they were unwilling to take – and so the sounds of their shouting would result in his public execution nailed to a tree. There is something about this internal conflict that continues to ring true for us as well.
I have often imagined the sounds of the hammers making their way through his skin and bones. I have imagined the crowd gathered – to judge, to mock, or to simply witness what happens when one takes on the power of the day. The last words of Jesus take us through the journey of his heart as he moves through forgiveness, the care of his mother, his physical pain, his offering up his spirit to God, to his final cry, “it is finished.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split. (Matthew 27:50–51; Luke 23:45–46)
And I have imagined a deadly silence that followed – a silence so loud that it pierces the air and the depths of all present. It is a silence accompanied by the darkness of the night; a silence caused by the rolling of a stone enclosing his body in the darkness of a tomb.
And so we again gather to hear this story – as the light of hope seems to leave the world. It is in this darkness that we are called to once again find hope. It is in this place – thousands of years later – that we are invited not to allow that darkness – within and around us – to take away the hope we carry because of the One who gives us hope by defying the silence of the darkness and death.
It is clear that the darkness continues to threaten us in so many places – broken relationships, senseless violence, injustice, illness, death, unemployment, hate, racism, addictions, abuse – the list can go on – causing us to despair. But we have what our early ancestors did not know – we have the knowledge and conviction that there is no place too dark where you and I can find ourselves where the risen Christ is unwilling to reach in and take us by the hand saying “gotcha” – bringing us out of the tombs that encase us, into the light of resurrection possibility.
And so it is in that truth – in the retelling of this story – in the remembering of how the singing turned to shouting, that tonight we wait in the silence of the deep darkness – in hope.