Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They spat on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.
And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’
Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son.” ’ The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 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?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ 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. But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 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!’ Matthew 27.27-54
With a great and dramatic flourish Matthew concludes his account of the Passion with the report of an earthquake. He says, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split.”
If ever you want a description of something which leaves humanity ‘out of its depth’, an earthquake usually fits the bill. Just as we euphemistically refer to this kind of thing as an ‘act of God’, ‘seismic’ is probably an appropriate word to encapsulate the significance of what happened that day. So, before the Cross we are in earthquake territory; and Matthew is reminding us that there is an objectivity to these things about which we are I believe, often far too shy.
Because this is the place in which something is done (accomplished) for us. This is the place from which springs the Lord God’s New Creation and his re-creating us in his image. As Stanley Hauerwas says, “We don’t get to make this up for ourselves.” Paul sums it up in both cosmic and personal terms. It’s here that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5.19). And he is the Christ “who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2.20)
Jesus told the disciples: “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself” (John 12.32) The cross is the revelation of divine love. It has, as Paul says, a “breadth and length and height and depth, …. that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3.18).
What we’re called to do is to listen and gaze; “keep watch over Jesus.” And let his act of self-giving love would somehow go to work on us so that like Simon of Cyrene; we discover that the Cross has a way of drawing us in and inviting us to take it up.
It’s always these two things: In this place something seismic was done for us but from this place we go forth, amazed by what the Lord God wishes to do in and through us. In other words, we find ourselves caught up in a story not of our own making …but which becomes our pattern of life and our future.