Gospel Reading: Mark 15:21-41
21 The soldiers led Jesus out to crucify him. They enlisted a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross.
22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha , which means the place of the skull.
23 They offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he refused it.
24 Then they crucified him, and shared out his clothing, casting lots to decide what each should get.
25 It was the third hour when they crucified him.
26 The inscription giving the charge against him read: "The King of the Jews."
27 And they crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.
29 The passers-by jeered at him: they shook their heads and said, "Aha! So you would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days!
30 Then save yourself: come down from the cross!"
31 The chief priests and the scribes mocked him among themselves in the same way: "He saved others," they said " he cannot save himself.
32 Let the Christ, the king of Israel , come down from the cross now, for us to see it and believe." Even those who were crucified with him taunted him.
33 When the sixth hour came there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.
34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you deserted me?'
35 When some of those who stood by heard this, they said, 'Listen, he is calling on Elijah.'
36 Someone ran and soaked a sponge in vinegar and, putting it on a reed, gave it him to drink saying, 'Wait and see if Elijah will come to take him down.'
37 But Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
38 And the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
39 The centurion, who was standing in front of him, had seen how he had died, and he said, 'In truth this man was a son of God.'
40 There were some women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary of Magdala, Mary who was the mother of James the younger and Joset, and Salome.
41 These used to follow him and look after him when he was in Galilee. And there were many other women there who had come up to Jerusalem with him.
The gospel reading for Palm Sunday is the entire story of the passion according to St Mark. We suggest that you focus on the last part, and divide it into several sections for meditation. Each section describes an incident in these last hours of Jesus' earthly life; all of them are important for our meditation today.
Verse 21 . Contrary to John's account, according to which Jesus 'carries his own cross', the three synoptic gospels speak of a person who was asked to carry it for him. His name here is given as Simon of Cyrene. The evangelist notes that two of his sons eventually became well known members of the Roman community. Christians have always seen in Simon a symbol of our universal vocation to share in the sufferings of Jesus.
Verse 22. All the gospels note the name of the place where Jesus was crucified. This one gives the meaning as 'the place of the skull'. It was a symbolic name as the place, though seemingly attached to death, was destined to become the source of new life in our world.
Verses 23-41. Mark's account of the actual crucifixion is extremely simple - almost as if the reality was too painful to dwell on. We can however note some of the details:
Verse 23: they offered him some wine which he refused; this was surely a powerful symbol that he did not want to be saved from this, his final moment of suffering;
Verse 24: they shared out his clothing; what we have here is clearly a reference to two extracts from the psalms - Psalm 15:9-10, and Psalm 21:15. Jesus is portrayed to us as a reminder that in our present lives we meet plenty of opposition. We can however bring salvation to all and be saved by our present action;
Verse 25: they crucified him at around the third hour; this a as significant since in fact it was the time when people were Traditionally purified from all their sins;
Verse 26: the inscription with the charge of being the King of the Jews is of course helpful to all - the great King of the Jews was also king of us all. It is very interesting that with this lofty title he was crucified with two thieves.
Verses 29-31. (Note that there is no verse 28 - we are not sure why.) For the gospel writers, the mocking of Jesus was more significant than the physical pain of the crucifixion. The charge that he 'saved others but could not save himself - of course perfectly true, but not in the sense that his accusers meant it.
Verse 32. St Mark, like St Matthew, makes no reference to one of the robbers being converted. Both robbers reject Jesus since he made no move to deny their own condemnation. This was of course very significant for the gospel writer so that he could affirm the power of Jesus' death.
In verse 33 a deep darkness came over the whole land, 'from the sixth to the ninth hour'. This was clearly a sign of the great darkness which came over the hearts of all human beings at this time - a darkness which leaves us all very unfocused.
Verses 34-35. It will be useful to read Psalm 22 (21 in the Psalter) so that we can get the deep significance of the cry of Jesus, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani - my God, my God, why have you deserted me?' It was really a moment of total desertion, such as only God's faithful followers have experienced. Hebrews 5:7 will also help your meditation here.
Verse 36. The cry to see if 'Elijah will come to take him down' was very important. It reminds us (once more) that Jesus did not want to renounce his chosen way of suffering alongside us.
In verses 37-38 the death of Jesus is told in a very dignified way. There are no extra details to distract us in any way. Secular and sacred used to be portrayed as totally separate realities. Now the death of Jesus in the secular world has abolished the gap between them.
Verse 39. The act of faith of the centurion is a climax of the whole gospel of Mark. This was clearly intended by the writer. We have been led to expect it right through the gospel ever since Jesus 'proclaimed the Good News from God: the Time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News'.
Verses 40-41 introduce the faithful women. According to Mark, only women remained faithful to Jesus even to the end of his brief but very scarred life. Some of these women were in fact at the tomb on Easter Sunday morning.
Lord, we thank you for those precious moments when you allowed us to experience that we played a significant part in your work of grace: we were there when a holy person was dying, and said thefinal prayers;
a national crisis arose, we were in the right place and did our duty to the country;
members of our community shared their sorrows with us;
we were at prayer and suddenly felt our solidarity with the suffering of the world.
It was a fleeting moment but the memory remains.
It must have been like that for Simon of Cyrene when he happened to be passing by, coming in from the country, and they enlisted him to carry the cross of Jesus. Thank you, Lord.
Lord, you often make a place of death the source of new life:
we were abandoned by our friends,
but learned how deep our inner resources were;
a parent died and the family came together as never before.
You teach us that you always bring life, and this is why your Son Jesus was not afraid when they brought him to a place called Golgotha , which means the place of the skull.
Lord, we thank you for the members of our church who are not afraid to be associated with those whom society labels disreputable:
those who work with AIDS patients;
movements like St Vincent de Paul and the Legion of Mary;
Often they are criticised and mocked, but we see in them Jesus crucified with two robbers, one on his right and the other on his left.
It can be rightly said of them that their only interest is in saving others, and that, like Jesus, they are not unduly concerned with saving themselves.
"It was essential that Jesus should become completely like his brothers so that he could be a compassionate and trustworthy high priest of God's religion." Hebrews 2:17
Lord, people sometimes think that those of us who are leaders in the church must always be calm and composed.
We thank you for teaching us that when you yourself seem to be silent we can cry in a loud voice,
"My God, my God, why have you deserted me?"
"To destroy human power nothing more is required than to be indifferent to its threats and to prefer other goods to those which it promises."
R. H. Tawney
Lord, how true it is that success and popularity are not really important in life.
The only important thing is that some unbelieving centurion, seeing how we live and die, could say, 'In truth, this was a son of God.'
Lord, when great people remain faithful unto death, showing no anger or resentment to their enemies, but on the contrary continuing to love and forgive, it shows us how false are the barriers we set up to separate people into bad and good; the veils we have erected in your temple are torn in two from top to bottom.
Lord, we thank you for faithful followers of Jesus, those who, like the women in the gospel, look after him in Galilee where it is safe, and then come up to Jerusalem with him, even though it is dangerous, and are there watching with him as he hangs on the cross.