Here is a sermon for Holy Week. It was written for the first Passion Sunday after Hurricane Floyd devastated our region in the fall of 1999.
The Last Cry
A Sermon on Mark 15: 33-39
Christ Jesus had to labor for every breath. He was already weak and dehydrated when they nailed him to the cross. Blood was oozing into his tissues and out of the cuts that covered his skin. Jesus hurt everywhere.
Like every crucifixion victim, Jesus sagged low on the cross. But then, because of the position he was hanging in, he couldn’t exhale. So he would have to push himself back up on the nail through his feet. Once his shoulders and arms were straight again, he could grab a few breaths. But then the weakness and the pain in his feet would overcome him, and down he sank again. A Roman commander, the centurion posted to supervise the crucifixion, watched as this process repeated itself again and again. He had observed many executions. Except for the poor condition of the man in the middle, Jesus, everything seemed routine.
Jesus had to struggle for the breath to groan or to gasp out even a few words. That’s why everyone was startled when he cried out in a loud voice, “My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?” Where did the breath come from? Where was God? Had God severed all connections with his Son? Some of the bystanders thought Jesus was calling for aid from Elijah, and proceeded to taunt him about it: “Let’s see whether Elijah comes to help him!” they sneered.
Moments later, Jesus gathered all his remaining strength, and straightened once more. He poured out the his last breath in a loud, wordless cry. Then he sank into silence, dead.
At that moment the heavy curtain that concealed the innermost holy sanctuary of the temple from human eyes was ripped apart from top to bottom. The place representing the center of God’s presence was laid open for all to see.
At that same moment, the Roman centurion exclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” He had seen many crucifixions, and he had never seen this before. Something in Jesus’ cry instantly ignited his faith. But what was it? What was in that cry?
What was in that cry was God’s own cry of anguish and grief. God’s heart was torn open with that cry, just as the temple curtain was torn open. In his death cry Christ Jesus revealed the pain in God’s heart.
From the cross Jesus could see way beyond Jerusalem. Jesus saw all the way to the ends of the earth, and all the way to the end of the age, and all the way down into the deepest hell of the human condition. And the Son of Man cried out for all of us. He took all of our guilt and all of our pain into his body. He took all of our cries into his own.
From the cross Christ cried out for every person who has been humiliated, for every person crushed unjustly, for every sinner and for every sin that has botched our lives. He cried out for everyone whose hope is exhausted, for everyone who has felt abandoned by God.
From the cross Christ cried out for every widowed spouse, awake and lonely in the night, for every parent who has had to cradle a dead child, for every person who has had to cope with sickness or pain or weakness, for every brokenhearted family.
From the cross, Christ Jesus cried out for every single person whose body lies in a mass grave in Uganda or Yugoslavia, for the families of every single one of the 58,000 people named on a great marble gash in the earth in Washington D.C., for their lost lives, and for those of row upon row upon row of soldiers interred in Flanders Field and Normandy, and on and on…
From the cross Christ cried out for shocked families surveying great piles of what used to be their homes and possessions, now putrid and infectious due to flood water. From the cross he cried out for the pain of people everywhere. From the cross Christ cried out for those who can’t cry any more. From the cross Christ cried out in a loud voice, and the temple curtain was ripped open.
The loud cry of Christ is the cry of God. It is an angry, agonized NO! to sin and every form of evil and death. And it is an aching, compassionate YES! to humanity. Christ’s wordless cry reveals a longing for us beyond words.
Not one gasp of pain, not one tear escapes his eye. On the cross Christ has drawn every sin and every hurt into his heart. He has descended into hell.
Jesus sank into death, into the silence of Saturday. For most people, the Sabbath and the Passover festival went on as though nothing had happened. But Jesus’ disciples’ hearts were heavy with guilt, torn with grief. It was time to cry.
It is time for us to weep. It is time for us to cry with Christ our God, for our own sins, and for the sins of the world; for our own pain, and for the pain of the world.
It is time to cry…
Wait, disciples of Jesus, Peter and John, Mary Magdalene and all the rest. Wait, people of God. For the Third Day is coming, when God will bless you with cries of joy.