Theme: A people of the Temple follow Christ in the way of suffering love
(excerpts; fresh translation)
Early in the morning,
the religious authorities turned Jesus over to Pilate,
charging him with many crimes.
Pilate sentenced Jesus to be scourged and crucified.
The soldiers dressed him in purple
and crowned him with thorns they had woven together.
For a scepter, they had a staff, which they also used to beat him on the head.
They knelt down in front of him and spit on him.
Then they led him away to be crucified.
They took him to the place called Golgotha (which means “skull”).
It was about the third hour of the morning* when they crucified him.
They crucified two bandits with him.
“Hey you! The one who was going to destroy the temple
and build it again in three days!
Save yourself! Come down off the cross!”
At about the ninth hour,**
Jesus shouted, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”
(“My God, my God, why have you deserted me?”)
He gave one more loud cry and died.
And the veil in the temple was ripped in two, from top to bottom.
* third hour of the morning: around 9:00 a.m.
** ninth hour: around 3:00 p.m.
Why the ripping of the veil in the Temple? Here’s my thought:
Photo by Daniel Ventura
In the Temple at Jerusalem, the veil covered the Holy of Holies, the innermost sanctuary. That was the room where the Ark of the Covenant was kept before it was lost. In that room, behind the veil, God’s presence was understood to reside. Only the high priest would pass through the veil, into the Holy of Holies, to stand in God’s presence, and that only once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
The ripping of the veil would leave the Holy of Holies exposed to view. There would no longer be a barrier concealing God’s presence from human eyes. God would be exposed to display.
Does the ripping of the veil at the moment of Jesus’s death mean that, in Jesus’s death, God is fully exposed to our view? Jesus’s death removes any mystery about who God is; Jesus’s death shows us who God is. God is a person who loves us so much that he (she, if you prefer) became human alongside us. God lived with us. God became one of us. God became vulnerable, as we are. God suffered, as people do. God suffered horribly. And God died, as we do.
If someone asked me to picture God in my head, there are lots of images from scripture I might choose from: God as a king seated on a throne. God as the creator who opens his/her hand to feed his/her creatures. God as a rock lifting me high out of reach of danger. God as a forgiving lover who is willing to have me back when I have been unfaithful. God as a loving mother. God as a defender of the poor and victims of injustice. God as a generous, impartial benefactor, showering rain and sunshine on the just and the unjust alike.
Or: God as a battered, bleeding human body—a corpse—nailed to a cross. That too is a true picture of God, perhaps the most mysterious.
Jesus was God, living and suffering and dying in solidarity with human beings. Following Jesus means living and suffering and, possibly, dying in solidarity with my fellow human beings. My solidarity is supposed to extend, like Jesus’s did, to all human beings. How far does it extend right now?
About this Lenten reflection