Apr. 5, 2012
The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
There are certain events that when they happen, you remember where you were when you hear about them. Events like when JFK was assassinated or when the shuttle blew up. Most recently, when you discovered the twin towers had been hit on 9/11. While you were not present, people can often speak specifically to how they discovered the news.
When people witness an event together, there is also something unique and different about being together for this situation. When the events are later recalled, those who witnessed this situation together can respond and share about it in such a way that if you were not present, you almost feel like an outsider.
We don’t know how many people were present for Jesus’ crucifixion. Because it spanned several hours, people came and went. But those who were there when Jesus breathed his last knew they had witnessed something unique. Why else would have the centurion proclaimed that Jesus was a righteous man? In Mark’s gospel, the centurion goes so far as to profess that Jesus was the Son of God. This is quite remarkable considering this Roman soldier was non-Jewish.
But listen again to how the people responded who witnessed Jesus’ death. “They beat their breasts.” Sadness enveloped them. Maybe remorse? Possibly confusion?
When I’ve witnessed something seemingly challenging and recall it later, my disposition changes. My face crinkles and I get a sinking feeling in my tummy. I don’t really know this, but I’m guessing this is how the witnesses felt each time they recalled those events later. It would not be a stretch to imagine those present as really only talking about it with other folks who were present. It was a shared experience that would have been difficult to explain to someone who wasn’t present. At some point, it was shared with others and this is how we have the four gospel accounts.
Today is Maundy Thursday, the day we remember the Last Supper Jesus had with the disciples. As we receive the body and blood of Holy Communion this day, I pray we can be thankful for the witnesses who observed these great events, who shared their recollections and for the people who recorded them so we can be a part of the retelling of these stories yet today.
Today is a day of remembering. Our faces should get crinkly and a sinking feeling should creep into our tummies as we ponder what Jesus did for us. It’s a story worth remembering and pondering. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: Oh, to see my name written in the wounds, for through your suffering I am free. Death is crushed to death, life is mine to live, won through your selfless love! This the power of the cross. Son of God slain for us. What a love, what a cost! We stand forgiven at the cross. Amen.