Tuesday in Holy Week
Then Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. Mark 15:37
There is a particular power to the verb “to utter.” It conveys something more primal and raw than many of the other words we use to describe an act of speech. “To speak” already suggests the intervention of thought. When we speak what we say is considered. What we think is discerned. Our words fit within a certain grammar that is shared and understood. To talk, to discuss, to exclaim, or to declare all assume some degree of self-reflection. We choose to do these things and are aware of that choice even as we are doing them. But utterance is more immediate, as if it couldn’t be helped.
Mark doesn’t tell us simply that Jesus cried out; nor do we ever say that someone “uttered a shout.” By stating that Jesus “uttered a loud cry” Mark makes the instant of Jesus’ death the complete antithesis of the act of God’s creation, when, in Genesis, God spoke the world into being, bringing form out of chaos. God’s words in the beginning were more than statements or commands; they were primal utterances too, through which God gave his very life to the life of the world in all its beauty and variation. (Only after each utterance did God step back to declare an assessment.) And God’s culminating act was then breathing soul into the life of humankind.
In this one verse, Mark informs us that Jesus died on the cross. But he did so in such a way that we might realize what Jesus’ death signified. It was the undoing of everything, the triumph of chaos in the unravelling of all creation. And, as Jesus’ breath vanished, it was even the death of his soul.
One verb reveals the magnitude of this moment.
The Rev. Peter Vanderveen
Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr