The Passion of St. Mark makes specific references to time, with events occurring at 9:00 AM (Jesus’ actual crucifixion), 12 PM (a great darkness falling across the countryside) and mid-afternoon or 3 PM when Jesus dies after uttering a loud cry. Scripture scholars conjecture that these times may correspond to an actual prayer observance in the early Christian Church at the time Mark composed his Gospel, shortly before 70 AD.
The Passion of St. Matthew includes perhaps the most dramatic scenario of the crucifixion account. Matthew 27: 51-54 records that at the moment of Jesus’ death “the earth quaked, boulders split, tombs opened. Many bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After Jesus’ resurrection they came forth from their tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.” This extraordinary account appears only in Matthew. The other evangelists report nothing of this sort. One would think that had this actually happened, secular historians of the time would have noted it, particularly the Jewish historian Josephus, our best independent source for these years. The best scholarship today indicates that Matthew constructed his dramatic account from at least five sources of the Hebrew Scripture: Joel 2:10; Ezekiel 37:12; Isaiah 26:19; Nahum 1:5-6; and Daniel 12:2. The common thread is apocalyptic: when the Lord comes, he will create a cosmic disturbance and raise from their graves those who died faithful to his word. This is a teaching tour-de-force from Matthew.
In today’s account of the Passion, written by St. John, note the theological/catechetical richness of Jesus last moments on the cross. Jesus entrusts the care of his mother to the one disciple who remained. This is more than a domestic arrangement; Jesus is in essence establishing his first “church family,” so to speak. Then, at his dying moment, Jesus “handed over his spirit.” This is a true Pentecost moment, one of several in John’s Gospel. Mary and John are thus marked by the Holy Spirit. Shortly after his death a soldier lances his side (a deviation from the common practice of leg breaking.) John has arranged for this to occur at the moment the lambs in the temple were being slaughtered (lanced) for families celebrating the Passover that night. When Jesus’ body was lanced, an outpouring of blood and water occurs, presumably splashing the onlookers at the foot of the cross. The symbolism of the water (Baptism) and the blood (Eucharist) are unmistakable.
In today’s Good Friday service, the seventh of the Great Intercessions is made on behalf of the Jews. I was twenty-two years old when Pope Paul VI ordered that this prayer speak kindly of our Jewish brethren. For nearly all of my youthful life, unfortunately, I worshipped and used the official term in the Roman Missal, “perfidious Jews.” A history of the term and its usage can be found here. This year, at our Good Friday worship, let us pray for the safety of Jesus’ own people. In addition, as catechists and evangelists, may we devote ourselves to the inestimable riches of the Hebrew Scripture, without which an understanding of our Savior in the Gospels is nigh impossible.
I will pray for each of you this afternoon.