Monday, July 6, 2009

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’ And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

- Luke 23:44-56a

Commentary tells me that Jesus' death at what was traditionally called the sixth hour, or noon, is about the same time of the ritual killing of the paschal lambs. We are also informed of the darkness that comes at noon that day, and the torn curtain in the temple. Jesus is the Lamb of God; all of this symbolic of the great spiritual events taking place.

A sad scene indeed, the aftermath of crucifixion - Jesus' conduct has been such that in death, those who are witnesses are convinced he was surely an innocent man. The centurion overseeing all is convinced that "certainly this man was innocent." The crowds who watched walk away beating their breasts. Jesus' conduct, as given to us in Luke's gospel, is faithful to the end, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." It is the death of someone who has nothing to regret, who remains faithful to the truth, and to the trust given him, until the very end. So, there is tremendous regret among the crowd, and the centurion, who understand an innocent man was crucified. The poignant note at the end of the first paragraph, above, tells us that Jesus' friends watched all of this at a distance. Those who have stayed close to him, who have followed him from his home of Galilee, have stood watch far away, and witnessed all of this that happened to him.

And then we begin to get the light that creeps into this scene. Importantly, not everyone on the council has agreed to this plan of crucifixion. Joseph of Arimathea comes to Pilate to ask for Jesus' body, to give him a good and proper burial. Those who love him, who care for him, pick up the pieces of what is left to be done for someone after death. This sad, wistful story is a reminder of the love and obligations we feel to someone to whom we have a loyalty, a love. Crucified between two thieves as a criminal, there are those who love and serve him still, there is faith, there are things that remain to be done. It is important that Joseph of Arimathea, who has taken it upon himself to provide a tomb and to ask Pilate for Jesus' body, is also a leader of the Jewish community, a member of the council - and he is one who is showing his love, even in the aftermath of execution. He wraps Jesus in linen; the rock-hewn tomb has never been used. This is a careful treatment of this man who has been crucified as befits the worst criminal.

And the women who've followed from Galilee see all this, and begin their dutiful job for their friend, their leader, the one whom they love. They will prepare his body properly for burial with the spices and ointments they bring. It is the day of preparation, Friday.

On the sabbath, faithful as they are, they rest "according to the commandment." The stage is set for the great event about to take place. It's like a hush has descended in the aftermath of a great trauma, and in the daily necessities, the banal things that follow that must be done by those who have duties and obligations and love even for such a one treated so. We await what is to come, as they rest, in faith, observant of the commandments, befitting those who serve their Lord, even at his death.

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