They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’
There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. (NRSV)
The radical, self-depreciating service offered by Jesus at the last supper looks positively tame alongside the account of Good Friday. It is one thing to take the attire of a slave. It is quite another to take up a Roman cross.
Today we remember that ‘they crucified him’. Nails tore through flesh and pinned the one beloved by God to the wood of a tree. There he hung between heaven and earth as he made one of David’s prayers his own: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
As if this treatment were not enough, the author of Mark reminds us that Jesus was surrounded by the merciless mocking of criminal and religious leader alike. It is a heartless scene. Can humanity go lower than to mock the suffering and imminent death of another?
Jesus’ own prediction of this suffering, death, and resurrection – couched in temple language – is thrown back at him here. Others use the sacred titles: Messiah, King of Israel, King of the Jews. But perhaps even more alarming is the mingling of Jesus’ own language of invitation with what is seen as an absolute and final defeat: salvation and the cross.
Despite all the predictions – both cryptic and explicit – the holding together of these two realities seems impossible. How can God’s salvation come from such an horrific scene? Can life really come from death? What do victory and such final defeat have in common?
The divide here is too great – too impossible – for these mockers. For here they can only see all Jesus stood for crumbling to dust. It looks as if it will all amount to nothing…
But even now God is at work. There are signs all around: a mid-day darkness; the heavy dividing curtain torn from on high; a centurion’s testimony; a band of faithful witnesses.
Yes, even here people are beginning to recognise the signs. Perhaps they do not know what to do with them as yet – but they see them clearly enough. This is more than just another execution. Creation itself seems to be responding to what is being done.
Salvation and the cross. Perhaps they have more in common than anyone – in this account and beyond – can realise.
For even now – after the last breath of the Christ – this story we so accurately call Good News is far from ended.