The Death of the Son

Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
April 3, 2015—Good Friday
Mark 15:33-41

From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”

Image courtesy wordle.net

After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But Jesus let out a loud cry and died.
The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.”
Some women were watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James (the younger one) and Joses, and Salome. When Jesus was in Galilee, these women had followed and supported him, along with many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him.

I. BEGINNING

The Gospel of Mark contains the most human portrait of Jesus. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus gets frustrated, he gets angry, he needs to take a rest away from the crowds, there are things he doesn’t know, and he undergoes great anguish at Gethsemane before he is arrested.

But the greatest sign of his humanity is in the suffering with which Jesus dies in Mark’s gospel. It would be hard to imagine greater pathos than that which is presented in the account of Jesus’ crucifixion.

At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”

My God, my God, why have you left me? Why have you forsaken me? Abandoned me?

Words of utter despair and anguish. Of alienation and loss. Human words. Very human words.

We are then told that after this Jesus let out a loud cry and died, leaving these words of anguish and despair as his last words.

II.    THE DEATH OF THE SON OF MAN

Most scholars believe that Mark’s gospel was written to an early Christian community that knew suffering well. Perhaps the Christian community of the city of Rome, who suffered greatly under the persecution of the Emperor Nero. A community that would see its own sufferings and wonder whether their Christian faith was not working.

In that context, Mark presents a vision of Jesus who models suffering, whose imagery is taken from the Suffering Servant of the Book of Isaiah, and who offers a vision of messiahship as embracing self-sacrifice and suffering, rather than power and glory. That same vision holds true for discipleship: we are to take up our cross and follow him. Whoever would be greatest among us, must be servant of all.

The Jesus we get in Mark’s gospel is a very human Jesus. He gets angry as we do. He gets frustrated as we do. He is persecuted as we are. He is anguished as we are. He suffers as we do. He dies as we do. Mark’s Jesus is the Jesus we all can relate to. The Son of Man, the Son of Humanity, or as our translation puts it: the Human One. In the death of the Son of Man we see the death of all living things. We see our own death and know that Jesus knew that death.

III.  THE DEATH OF THE SON OF GOD

But sometimes, that is where we leave it. On Good Friday, we talk about the death of the human Jesus. And some Christians are even wont to think that only Jesus’ humanity died on that cross. Some, that only Jesus’ body died on that cross.

I had been told that Boards of Ordained Ministry were fond of asking candidates for commissioning and ordination the question: Where was Jesus on Holy Saturday? They never asked me that question. It’s a pity, because I was ready. If they had asked me that question I was going to answer simply: he was dead.

Not dead in the sense that his body had died and his soul had flown away to heaven. Not dead in the sense that he was really an immortal being of pure energy whose apparent body had died. No—dead. Really dead.

Now, as Christians, this is where it gets a little complicated for us. Because we believe that Jesus is truly God and truly human. So, are we claiming that God died? That for a whole day or more between Good Friday and Easter Sunday the Universe was without its Creator?

Modern German theologian Jürgen Moltmann has spent his entire theological career attempting to understand the Christ who lies behind the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What Moltmann concludes is that when Jesus dies on the cross, it is not simply the death of the human being Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Mary. It is the death of the Divine Son of God as well. That is, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son, dies as well. And so that while the Universe does not lose its Creator, all that remain are the Father and the Spirit. The Son of Man and the Son of God are dead.

The point Moltmann is making is that the death of Jesus is not a death that takes place apart from God, it is a death that takes place within God. That through the crucifixion of Jesus, God knows death within God’s innermost being. God experiences a death within God’s own self. On Easter Sunday it is both the human son and the Divine Son who are resurrected from out of death and non-existence.

IV. SOLIDARITY AND SALVATION

This is a powerful statement. Because what it means is that Jesus’ death is not simply a death that we can relate to. It is a death that God has experienced within God’s own being. And what that means is that even death itself has a location in God. As Paul will later say, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, not even death. [1]

There is no aspect of our lives that happens apart from God. God has declared solidarity with us even unto the depths, even unto the grave. All the brokenness that we have, all the sorrow, the suffering, the alienation, the forsakenness… in all of it God is with us. That is an incredibly powerful and transformative thing. To know that we are not alone, that we have not been abandoned, that we are not outside of God’s love and grace when we suffer, but that we are deeply embedded in God in precisely those time. Such knowledge is too wonderful for us. It challenges the idea that in our imperfections, in our doubts, in our failings, in our sufferings we are removed from God’s presence. Instead, it tells us that God comes to us in those times and places, declaring solidarity with us in the brokenness. And that kind of solidarity is transformative. It heals us. It saves us.

It often seems a paradox that this day on which we commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion should be called “Good” Friday, but when we realize just what depths God is willing to go to declare solidarity with us through the death of the Son, we have encountered Good News that can transform us and transform the very world itself.


Notes

[1] Romans 8:38