Today's Reading: Ephesians 2:13-16; Mark 15:33-39
On the cross, a criminal at Jesus’ left taunts him: Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” The crowd milling about the site takes up the cry: Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.... Let God rescue him now if he wants him”.
But there is no rescue, no miracle. There is only silence. The Father has turned his back, or so it seems, letting history takes its course, letting everything evil in the world triumph over everything good. For Jesus to save others, quite simply, he cannot save himself.
Why does Jesus have to die? Theologians who ponder such things have debated various theories of “the Atonement” for centuries, with little agreement. Somehow it requires love, sacrificial love; to win that cannot be won by force.
One detail Mark includes may provide a clue. Jesus has just uttered the awful cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He, God’s Son, identifies so closely with the human race – taking on their sin!—that God the Father has to turn away. The gulf is that great. But, just as Jesus breathes his last, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
That massive curtain serves to seal off the Most Holy Place, where God’s presence dwells. No one except the High priest is allowed inside, and he can enter only once a year, on a designated day. AS the author of Hebrews will later note, the tearing of that curtain shows beyond doubt exactly what is accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross. No more sacrifices will ever be required. Jesus has won for all of us – ordinary people, not just priests – immediate access to God’s presence. By taking on the burden of human sin and bearing its punishment, Jesus removes forever the barrier between God and us.