Thought for the day  
Official memorial celebrations are familiar to us, marking great world or national events. Often, these are coloured by a mixture of sadness and gratitude. The Christian memorial of the last week of Jesus’ life is entirely different. First of all, we tell the whole story again because he is risen from the dead. Secondly, this memorial is an effective one: as we do this in memory of him, the very same gifts of compassion, forgiveness, love and healing are offered again to all present, precisely because Jesus is risen from the dead. Our Christian memory is not a dead remembering but an effective bringing into the present of the great events that gave us new life in Christ.

Saving God, as we recall in word and gesture the great events of salvation, let us know your healing love. Amen.

The Crucifixion of Jesus

Luke 23:26   As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Luke 23:32   Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

Luke 23:39   One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The Death of Jesus

Luke 23:44   It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. 47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” 48 And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49 But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

The Burial of Jesus

Luke 23:50   Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Initial observations
The same basic story of the Passion is recounted in all four Gospels. However, they differ in sequence, in wording and in detail, according to the needs of the audience and the theology of the evangelist. A great deal can be learned from paying attention to the variations on the core account. For our brief notes, only the central story is printed and commented.

Kind of writing
The Passion tells the story of Jesus’ final days. It constitutes the climax of his bios, the life-story of Jesus, as interpreted in each gospel.

Old Testament background

The first generation of believers used the Hebrew Bible to explore what had happened in Jesus, especially Isaiah and the Psalms. (i) “Daughters of Jerusalem” is an expression found only in the Songs of Songs of Songs (1:5; 2:7; 3:5, 10; 5:8, 16; 8:4). This implied symbolism of the bridegroom is found also in John’s gospel, where the expression “aloes and myrrh” also comes from the Song of Songs. Compare Lk 5:34-35; 12:36 and 14:8. (ii) Numbered among the transgressors comes from Is 53:12; casting lots comes from Ps 22:18; the sour wine comes from Ps 69:21; scoffing comes from Ps 22:6; “chosen one” comes from the Davidic Ps 89:3 and Jesus’ final prayer comes from Ps 31:5.

New Testament foreground

Within Luke’s gospel, there is a remarkable “foreground” to the Passion.
(i) Women are important in Luke and here he shows the representative women of Jerusalem suffering with Jesus (v. 27).

(ii) Luke underlines strongly the innocence of Jesus: Pilate (23:4, 14, 22), Herod (23:15), the daughters of Jerusalem (27), Jesus himself (31), the good thief (41), the centurion (47) and the crowds who came to watch (49).

(iii) The martyrdom of Stephen is very similar (Acts 7-8: he sees heaven open; is taken outside the city to be killed; prays “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit”; “Lord do not hold this sin against theme”; is buried by devout men). Jesus thus dies as a prophet-martyr (cf. Lk 4:16-30, Jesus as prophet).

(iv) This gospel shows Jesus “dispensing” gifts while going to death himself: reconciliation (between Pilate and Herod); consolation (to the women); forgiveness (to his killers); paradise (to the good thief); praise (the centurion); repentance (to the crowds). The gifts unwrap Luke’s theology of the cross.

(v) “If you are” takes us back to the temptations in Luke 4:9-10.

(vi) The evangelist uses disreputable people to illustrate the Good News: Zacchaeus, the unjust steward, the shepherd (proverbially unable to keep the Law) and the (mean?) woman of the lost coin, the prodigal son, and finally, in this passage, the good thief.

St Paul
In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Brief commentary
Verse 26 Simon is a historical memory, used here to illustrate true discipleship.
Verse 27 This is a sign of repentance to be repeated in v. 48.
Verses 28-30 Written in light of the later destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.
Verse 31 That is, if they do this to the innocent, what will happen to the guilty?
Verse 32 The theme is from the Suffering Servant Songs of Second Isaiah.
Verse 33 Both skull here and paradise in v. 43 recall themes of Gen 1-2.
Verse 34 [In brackets, because the text is not in the best and earliest manuscripts.] Casting lots: from Ps 22:18.
Verse 35 This “looking” is really a kind of contemplation. “Chosen one” is found at the Transfiguration only in Luke. Saving himself would contradict the mission of Jesus (I am among you as one who serves [22:27]; was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory? [24:26]). It echoes the temptation narrative from Luke.
Verse 36 Ps 22 is fulfilled to the letter.
Verses 37-38 The religious case against Jesus had to be converted into a political indictment to get the Romans to react.
Verses 39-42 A request of profound faith, echoing the direct conversion of Zacchaeus, earlier in the Gospel.
Verse 43 Matthew, Luke and John “bring forward” symbolically the effects of the resurrection, so we see the link between the death of Jesus and the resurrected life of the believer. “Today” echoes many “todays” in Luke’s gospel.
Verse 44 Darkness at noon is an apocalyptic theme, telling us that what is happening has to do with God’s ultimate purpose in all creation (Ezek 32:8). It also echoes the three days darkness leading to the first Passover (Ex 10:22-23)
Verse 45 Luke—more favourable to the Temple—brings this detail forward and, instead of being a consequence of the cross, it forms part of the context.
Verse 46 Ps 30 is a night prayer. Compare the last words in the other gospels.
Verse 47 Praise—unique to Luke—echoing a strong theme in this Gospel.
Verse 48 That is, conversion. The tax collector in Lk 18:9-14 beats his breast.
Verse 49 In Luke-Acts, the true disciples are witnesses to all these things (24:14; in Acts 1:21 they replace Judas by one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us).
Verses 50-52 Luke provides a fuller picture and protects the reputation of Joseph. He is explicitly described as expecting the Kingdom, just like Simeon.
Verse 53 Not the common grave of all humanity because the outcome of this burial will be absolutely unlike the outcome of all other burials.
Verse 54 In Luke’s view, this prepares for Easter morning. Literally, the sabbath was already dawning. Now the sabbath begins not at sunrise but at sunset and the dawning of the sabbath must refer to the sabbath lamps piercing the onset of evening darkness. Thus Luke delicately anticipates the light of resurrection.
Verse 55 Unlike in Mark and Matthew, the women are witnesses of all these things.
Verse 56 The women are portrayed as pious and observant, like Anna in Luke 2. The Sabbath rest echoes Gen 2.

Pointers for prayer
When you read the passage, stay with whatever part of it resonates with your own life, but make sure when you pray it that you stay with the passage until you get beyond the violence and the horror to find a good news lesson for you. A few specific points taken at random are:

1. In this scene of great tragedy, there are people helping others, either reluctantly or with compassion: Simon, the women of Jerusalem, the criminal on the cross, and Jesus himself. Note the differences in the manner in which the help given (as a burden, with sympathy, etc). What has been your experience of helping and being helped?
2. Despite the persecution by the leaders Jesus still shows forgiveness. When have you seen that spirit of forgiveness in yourself or in others? In your experience what is the effect of a forgiving spirit ... or the absence of that spirit?
3. Towards the end there is a ray of light. Jesus says “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” His relationship with his Father was one of trust, even at a moment like this. What difference has it made to you in times of difficulty or pain to have a relationship of trust with God, or with someone else?

O God of eternal glory, you anointed Jesus your servant to bear our sins, to encourage the weary, to raise up and restore the fallen. Keep before our eyes the splendour of the paschal mystery of Christ and, by our sharing in the passion and resurrection, seal our lives with the victorious sign of his obedience and exaltation. Amen.