Have you ever had an experience that caused you to stop and say, "What just happened?" We just had a family emergency that caused me to look back and ask that question. I'm still trying to make sense of everything that happened. With Palm Sunday upon us, I'm wondering about how those around Jesus might have answered that question in the days surrounding His crucifixion.
As soon as morning came, the chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin held a council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He said to him in reply, "You say so." The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him, "Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of." Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
Now on the occasion of the feast he used to release to them one prisoner whom they requested. A man called Barabbas was then in prison along with the rebels who had committed murder in a rebellion. The crowd came forward and began to ask him to do for them as he was accustomed. Pilate answered, "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" For he knew that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate again said to them in reply, "Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews?" They shouted again, "Crucify him." Pilate said to them, "Why? What evil has he done?" They only shouted the louder, "Crucify him." So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified.
The soldiers led him away inside the palace, that is, the praetorium, and assembled the whole cohort. They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him. They began to salute him with, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and kept striking his head with a reed and spitting upon him. They knelt before him in homage. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him out to crucify him.
They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. They brought him to the place of Golgotha — which is translated Place of the Skull — They gave him wine drugged with myrrh, but he did not take it. Then they crucified him and divided his garments by casting lots for them to see what each should take. It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." With him they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left. Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross." Likewise the chief priests, with the scribes, mocked him among themselves and said, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him.
At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Some of the bystanders who heard it said, "Look, he is calling Elijah." One of them ran, soaked a sponge with wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink saying, "Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down." Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" Mark 15:1-39
As Jesus entered Jerusalem, those closest to Him must have constantly wondered about everything that was swirling around Jesus. The Sanhedrin, Pilate and the crowds all played a part in an emotionally charged "trial", where the defendant passively accepted His brutal and gruesome fate. The question, "What just happened?" would have elicited many answers depending on the individual.
We do hear an answer from one person, the centurion at the foot of the cross. This man showed up for an ordinary workday. (Yes it was ordinary for a Roman centurion to be a part of a crucifixion.) He witnesses the death of another "criminal" he may never have laid eyes on before. However, something causes him to come to an extraordinary conclusion.
The experience of listening to Jesus' passion and crucifixion each year provides us with an opportunity. We can ask ourselves, "What just happened?" Depending on where we are in life at that instant we will have a unique response. The Lenten journey allows us to reflect on what happened to Jesus. We must, at the same time, remember Who He was. The centurion helps us in that. "Truly this man was the Son of God."
Have a blessed Holy Week!