Sunday, 1 April 2012
Palm Sunday, Year B, Shaftesbury 2012
Mk 14:1-15:47; Isa 50:4-7
We just heard in that account about how there was darkness “over the whole land” (Mk 15:33). I wish today to say a few words about the experience of darkness, reflecting particularly on the words we just heard uttered by our Lord, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And to say this with the aid of some reflections from Pope Benedict.
All of us, of course, know moments when we experience a sense of ‘darkness’ in our lives. It is, I think, a peculiar characteristic of such times that we can almost simultaneously feel abandoned by God and alone, and yet close to Him as we experience our distance from everything and everyone else.
Pope Benedict, in a recent General Audience (8 Feb 2012), noted similarly that there is an ambivalent experience of darkness in the Old Testament Scriptures. For example, God came to Moses in a “thick darkness”(Ex 20:21 c.f.19:9) and yet in was precisely “out of the midst of the darkness” (Deut 5:23; c.f. 4:11) that the voice of God spoke to Moses.
The darkness we just heard of in the Gospel was a much greater darkness, a darkness that came “over the whole land” (Mk 15:33), a darkness whereby the cosmos itself seemed to reflect the horror of mankind’s rejection of its God.
It was in that moment of darkness that Mark specifies that Jesus cried out. Unusually, the Evangelists are not content to give us a Greek translation of what Jesus said (Greek being the language it seems the Evangelists wrote the Gospels in), rather, they give us words in a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic that give us the very sound uttered by God from the Cross: “Eloi, EIoi, lama sabachthani?”(Mk 15:34). “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The Gospel writers took this care to transmit these exact words to us because they thought they were important, because they recognised a meaning in them that was important for understanding the whole event. What was that meaning?
Pope Benedict articulates the classical interpretation of this text in noting, as the liturgy itself does in using Psalm 21 as our responsorial psalm today, noting that the words uttered by Christ would have been familiar to His hearers, familiar as the first line of that psalm, familiar as a prayer that while it seems to start in situation of despair nonetheless confidently anticipates that God will rescue him. As Pope Benedict put it in his book, “The cry of extreme anguish is at the same time the certainty of an answer from God, the certainty of salvation — not only for Jesus Himself, but for ‘many” (Pope Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 2 (San Francisco: lgnatius Press, 2011), pp.213-4).
What then is the meaning of that cry from the Cross? That Christ knew God to be active n the midst of darkness, even in the midst of that darkest of all dark moments in human history.
It would seem, judging from the reaction of those who thought He was calling on Elijah, that at least some of those who heard Him failed to understand.
If WE would hear Him and understand, then we need to understand the truth that God is active in the darkness, as He was for Moses, and as the Son of God knew Him to be even in His crucifixion.
For Christ, His certainty was rooted in His relationship with the Father, in His knowledge of His divinity.
For us, our certainty that God is with us in OUR darkness must be rooted in seeing that God has suffered for us, with us, such that darkness is not the last word. Our moments of darkness remain places of silence, not places of ease. Yet, if they are places where we are silent WITH HIM then they can be a place of trust, and we can make the prayer of the prophet Isaiah that we heard in our first reading our prayer too: “I know I shall not be shamed”(lsa 50:7).