Monday in Holy Week
When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Mark 15:35-36
This detail from Jesus’s last chaotic, awful moments reflects more than anything else the confusion of the “bystanders” witnessing the event. We are told that Jesus calls out “Eloi, Eloi…” (Aramaic, “My God, my God”), but those listening either hear or interpret this as beseeching Elijah, a prophet. Then they “run” and offer him a sponge with rancid wine to drink.
Are these his friends, or enemies? Do they seek to relieve his suffering, or further mock him? Are they acting in hope, or cynicism? Whatever the intent they do this, apparently, to see if this act, or his plea, will bring Elijah to his aid. All we know is that the next thing that happens is Jesus takes his last breath.
Today, thousands of years later, we are still struggling with the same confusion as those standing by as Jesus dies. As we stand at the foot of the cross what proofs do we seek? How do we hear his words? What struggles do we have about what is happening, our part in it, our doubts, our yearning, our hopes? We are still confused bystanders, staring aghast up at the cross, listening to the gasping of a dying Christ, offering insufficient comfort as we try to grasp what he is saying to us. As the body of Christ, we are still calling out to God.
In this step by step, day by day pilgrimage of Lent, we needn’t rush to the tomb because we are afraid. If scripture is clear about anything it is that we are asked to live these struggles as Christ’s body, just as he lived, and died in them so something new can be born.
God, what is it going to take for us to know that you are with us? How much will we cause you to suffer because loving each other as you love us is so hard? How long before we hear you? Amen.
The Rev. Christopher Bishop
Saint Martin’s, Radnor