“And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
Mark’s passion narrative has been deliberately structured in three hour intervals. This moment of darkness signifies the final hours of this narrative, telling us that what is happening holds a cosmic (whole “world”) reach. This is designed, following the setting of the Passover which leads us to the Cross, to bring us back to the three days of darkness that preceded the death of the firstborn sons in Egypt, the very thing that awakened the people of Israel to their coming liberation (Ex 10:1-23).
It is directly after this sweeping mention of the darkness moving over the earth that Jesus quotes from the very recognizable Psalm 22, a Psalm that careful readers will note has also played a significant role in Mark’s Gospel as framing the dialogue of Jesus Hiimself. Jesus is playing out the story of Israel. The words “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me” bring together Israel’s experience in the wilderness with the fulfilled promise of a liberated people.
To read through Psalm 22 is to encounter another theme that becomes prominant in Mark’s Gospel narrative, Jesus’ kingship. The first time we hear the phrase in Mark’s Gospel, the King of the Jews, is in this narrative, and the writer of mark then inundates the Gospel with references to this kingship. This would recall Israel’s demand in 1 Samuel 8:4-22 for a king in their desire to be “just like other nations’. This very notion is caught up in Mark’s mention of the encounter between Pilate and Jesus that leads to him being handed over to be crucified. Pilate percieved “that it was out of envy that the chief preiests had delivered him up.” Envy that leads our attention back to the central problem of the Biblical narrative, the envy between Cain and Abel that led to this still yet unbroken cycle of violence and division that holds us in bondage. A cycle that is commenting on the envy present in the Adam and Eve story of a people desiring to ‘be like God” (Gen 3:5). This becomes the lie of the evil that hides humanities true nature as God’s image bearers, made in fact in the very likeness of God for the prupose of bearing witness of God’s goodness to the whole of creation, the very creation now cloaked in darkness.
The cycle set in play with the story of Adam and Eve and actualized in the Cain and Abel story as envy incarnate culminates in a world filled with violence and division perpetuated by the “eye for an eye” form of justice that leaves the people calling “upon the name of the Lord.”(Gen 4:26). A cycle that is now being broken at the very foot the Cross, the culmination of this envy that has left Israel a divided people set one against the other. It is on the Cross that the full weight of this eye for an eye form of justice gets heaped on Jesus’ shoulders, leading him to express the familiar cry of Psalm 22 as he shares in the fulness of Sin’s repurcussions.
And yet, in bearing the weight of this darkness something new is happening.
Welcome to the sunrise.
As the curtain of the temple is torn in two with Christ’s final breath, the sweeping narrative in Mark of this temple that must be first deconstructed is being torn down, just as it had in the story of Israel. And just as the stranger in the crowd is swept up into the narrative in order to help carry Jesus’ cross, the great phrase of Mark 16:7, “He has risen, he is not here” beckons us towards this process of moving out of the darkness and into the sunrise where Jesus has gone “before” us in order to participate in the work Jesus is doing. To take up our cross and follow Jesus in the way of the truth that says this cycle of perpetuated violence and division that led us into the wildnerness has been broken. In Jesus’ victory over the cycle of Sin we find true liberation, the ability to lay all notions of judgement and unforgivness at His feet. Where the cross Jesus carried was heavy, ours becomes light as we step into this new temple reality, this new creation reality that Jesus’ Resurrection ushers in. The darkness is no more. Death has been defeated. The weight of sin can be set at Jesus’ feet as we learn to take up the cross and follow where he leads.
This is what enfolds the whole of Psalm 22, a song that captures this wilderness reality with the full hope that God will once again be bringing us back to Eden. The King of the Jews, hung on a Cross with two criminals enthroned on his left and his right, the deep and profound proclamation that we find in the Gospel of Mark is that yes, Jesus indeed is the King of the Jews, a phrase Mark cleverly shifts to say “King of Israel”, symbolic of a divided nation being made whole in the shadow of the Cross, the divided body made whole by declaring the full forgivness of the sins of the fathers held bondage to this cycle of division that has held this story of Israel in its grip. With the great and powerful news being that in the story of Israel, Jesus’ Kingship, this taking on of Israel’s story in His covenantal faithfulness to His promise never to foresake us and never to leave us, is moving out into the whole of the creation in order to bring about the new creation order, the rule of God established in the order of the Cross and its call to service, humily and sacrifice for the other. This is the good news of the sunrise, where we can now sing with Psalm 22 the words, “he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him”, thus “the afflicted shall eat and be satisfied… for kingship belongs to the Lord.”
Which brings to mind these words,
“How precious the gift of the cross, how splendid to contemplate! This tree does not cast us out of Eden, but opens the way for our return.”
– Theodore the Studite