Matthew 27: 45-54
45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’
Friday of Holy Week, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. This reading from Matthew’s gospel tells of the moment of Jesus’ death. We can almost feel his desolation as he cries out to God in despair, feeling completely and utterly forsaken. It’s only in Matthew’s account that we read of the earth shaking and rocks splitting. Reality or metaphor, it doesn’t really matter. It’s what death feels like. It shatters our world.
We’re blessed to live in a country where we can mostly keep death at arm’s length. Modern medicine, vaccines and good living conditions mean that most people live to a ripe old age. Of course, there are exceptions. But that’s what they are. In the many funerals I’ve taken over the last 19 years, I think I can probably remember all of those where the person died unexpectedly, or too young, or due to an accident or an act of violence. I remember them because they were unusual. Mostly people die peacefully in hospital or the hospice with their loved ones nearby. That’s not to say that those deaths don’t also cause heartbreak and devastation, but there is at least, usually some measure of being prepared for it, or of feeling like it was the right time.
This virus has changed all that. Suddenly death lurks on every corner. Any one of us could be struck down. Those who are already vulnerable, are made more vulnerable, and those working on the front line in the NHS have become vulnerable. People of every age and background, some who were already ill, others who were perfectly healthy; they have all lost their lives.
And many of the things that make death bearable have been stripped away. Friends and family unable to be with their loved one as they die. Funerals reduced to the bare minimum, with just a handful of mourners, regardless of whether they have died from Covid-19.
The earth shakes and rocks are split apart.
So where do we turn in all this? Where do we go with our fear, our grief, our anger, our hopelessness?
For me, I take it to Jesus. And on this day, of all days, I take it to the cross. Over the years I’ve had countless conversations, read many books, written numerous sermons and even a couple of essays about why Jesus died and what that means. But what I think I’ve finally come to realise is that it isn’t something I can ever fully understand, but I can feel its impact. I know, deep in my soul, that Jesus died me for me, and for you, because he loves us, and somehow that makes everything better. And I know that I can take all my fear, grief, anger and hopelessness to his broken body on the cross, and he will carry it for me. I will never be forsaken because Jesus, God’s son, will always be there for me.
So, let’s pause a moment, and gather all our mixed emotions. And bring them to Jesus, bring them to the cross, and ask him to carry them.
I’d like to finish with words from the hymn ‘Now the green blade riseth’.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.