The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
March 31, 2015
“Then they brought Jesus to the placed called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And there they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.”
That last little bit strikes me. “It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.” It feels morbid to remember the precise hour at which they hung Jesus on the cross. But there it is. It’s stark. It’s actually kind of eerie. I mean, how many days do we live and nine o’clock in the morning just passes us by? Nine o’clock is the time for our first cup of coffee, or second, or third. By nine o’clock we’re running late for work. Or, think of the meetings you have scheduled for nine o’clock – so many that it’s like no big deal. So here’s Mark, in the gospel almost nonchalantly saying, “It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.” He says it so unapologetically.
That’s what strikes me. It’s that Mark really doesn’t mind being so honest about it. I mean, think about the terrible stuff you’ve been through. I mean, the real deep, down, dark stuff we’ve lived. We don’t talk about it. We don’t let the world know the time and the hour on which those things happened. We bottle it all up. We don’t share it like Mark does.
Instead, we pretend. We say, “life is good. I’m good. I’m fine. Really, no, I’m fine.” The suburbs help do this to us. Our house looks perfect, our lawn is green, our kids all have designer brand clothes – but wow, on the inside, we are sapped. We’re not fine, we’re thinking, “last Thursday at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I had to put my mother in a nursing home.” You’re thinking, “my scary doctors’ appointment is at 7 am next week.” You’re thinking, “my kid didn’t come home until 5 o’clock in the morning.” But we say, “I’m good. I’m fine.” The Gospel of Mark doesn’t hold back like we do. That’s what makes the gospel so refreshing, so human. “It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.”
Now, I’m not asking you all to talk about all your problems all the time with everybody. Please, don’t. But we have to be honest with God and with ourselves. Jesus was honest – he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Imagine what Jesus was going through. Crucifixion was a form of torture. If they had wanted to kill Jesus easily, there were much more convenient methods. Crucifixion was public shaming – because you were stripped naked and left bare to the world for hours, sometimes days. Crucifixion was a scare tactic – because it was meant to frighten anybody else who thought of doing anything similar. As he was dying of thirst and slowly suffocating to death, of course he would cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Because that’s what it must have felt like.
What else are you going to say when you’ve been beaten, stripped naked, and nailed to a piece of wood? As his hands and feet are pierced with nails, Jesus isn’t going to say, “You know what? God has just really blessed me today.” Hanging from the cross, Jesus doesn’t say, “God, I know that you have plans for my welfare and not for my harm.” It was nine o’clock in the morning when they stripped him naked and crucified him, and by three o’clock in the afternoon Jesus was saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What else are you going to say when the world is crushing you?
When the world is crushing you, it’s okay to cry out to God. It’s okay to scream. It’s okay to say, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And it’s okay to talk about your pain with people you trust. It’s okay to talk with God about it. About anything. It’s okay to feel like you’ve been abandoned by God, because sometimes it really does seem that way. “It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.”
This sermon might be hard to hear. And it’s hard to preach, only because I know it’s so true. And I don’t want it to be true. I want Christianity to be about how God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life. But it’s not. We don’t have a huge smiley face in our church, we have a huge cross – because Christianity comes face to face with pain and death. It’s time to take off the masks we wear when we tell everybody that we’re fine.
Now, everything will be fine, but in a different way that we might expect. And – spoiler alert – that’s the sermon for next Sunday. This week, though, we have to walk the way of the cross with Jesus. Today, I ask that you remember the crucifixion. Remember how Jesus cries out in agony and desperation. Take home your palm cross and put it somewhere that you’ll see it. On your dresser or in your car or on your nightstand. I pray that these palm crosses are reminders of the pain you have experienced. When you look at these palm crosses, remember what it feels like when it seems that God has abandoned us. May that palm cross remind you that it was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified Jesus.