33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Mark 15: 33-39
When I began seminary one of the first books that I was required to read was Gerd Theissen’s The Shadow of the Galilean which follows Andreas, a first century merchant who kept walking through the places where Jesus had been, hearing the echoes of his passing, seeing the effects that he had on people. He never meets Jesus while before the crucifixion but I enjoyed this scholars attempt to wonder what it might be like on the ground in ancient Palestine at the time of Jesus. Through the story the author tries to figure out who is this Jesus and why did he die, and those are questions that Christians and others who live in the wake of this Galilean have wondered for two thousand years. In the words of the Appalachian carol ‘I Wonder As I Wander’
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor ord’n’ry people like you and like I.
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky.
And each of the gospels wonder as they wander with Jesus, narrating his story in their own way. They pull on their experiences, on the stories they’ve heard, on the things they’ve seen, on the world they understand in light of their scriptures and they call us into the mystery as well. So as we wonder about the cross and why Jesus did die we come to Mark’s gospel and one answer, and that is that God had a dream that was rejected. Jesus comes and proclaims that the kingdom of God is at hand, that God has a vision for the world and that because of this the world was changing. It was not a new dream, the prophets had pointed to it, the psalms sang of it, and the law envisioned it, but just as the people had never accepted the prophets in their own time they did not receive the son. But why would people reject this dream? Why would they turn away from God’s calling and desire? Why would they choose something else than the kingdom of God?
Well in part because this dream challenged the reality had grown up experiencing. It challenged people’s practices, how they could judge and exclude one another, who they could ignore, who they could exploit. It challenged the temple and the religious, for healing was coming from a source other than them. Jesus didn’t do the right things, hang out with the right people, and show the right people the proper deference. Who did he think he was? It challenged the Romans and the powerful of the day, it didn’t believe that a person’s value was based on their power or position, it didn’t occupy strongholds or build armies but it did undercut the threat of violence. It challenged the rich and the wealthy because it told people to place their trust not in wealth or possessions or land but instead in the presence of God who had come down to be a part of the world. It called people away from their trades, their homes, their families and their lives. It made lepers clean and allowed the blind to see and yet those with eyes to see and ears to hear were few indeed. It lifted up the weak and the widow, the outcast and the orphan, the foreigner and the forgotten. It imagined a place where the first where last and the last were first where people found a new community in being gathered together around this Galilean. It taught people to love and that aroused hate.
Why did Jesus die, well on the ground level there are a number of answers: fear, power, authority, security. The religious of Jesus’ day felt that he was a blasphemer and a heretic, the Romans crucified him as a rebel and he dies on a cross viewed as a traitor to both Israel and Rome. He dies because the dream was rejected, the kingdom cast aside and its king crowned with thorns. Jesus dies to kill the messenger and destroy the message. Crucified to erase his honor, name and memory from all traces of history. But in this crazy dream where the first are last and the last are first, where the irony of Jesus’ mocking title hung over him on the cross is somehow true, where one consigned to be forgotten becomes remembered far beyond any other figure of any day or time, this mystery of the message lives on in us. We are those who come today and wonder as we wander out under the sky, how Jesus the Savior did come for to die. And while there are many answers to this question and what happened on this day will continue to defy our attempts to lock it down and so we come together and we wonder about the mystery of the cross and the one who went to the cross. We learn to dream God’s dreams, to live in God’s kingdoms, and to be transformed by the message and the messenger who died on the cross and yet live.