And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open... When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:50-54)Three o'clock Friday afternoon. Darkness had covered the land since noon, while people stood watching Jesus, the hope of Israel, endure the suffering of the cross. And now, with a loud cry, he died.
Had you been there, you might have thought that all was lost. Perhaps he was, after all, just a man -- brilliant and charismatic with power to heal, yet, still, a man.
But if you had not been overcome with grief -- as were his followers -- or fear -- as were his accusers, -- you might have noticed some of the remarkable occurrences that accompanied his death.
The earth shook and the rocks split and the tombs broke open. Rocks splitting and tombs breaking open are an indication of a tremendous earthquake, the likes of which I cannot comprehend.
We know that the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:20-21). When Jesus died was the earth groaning from a sense of despair, that its liberator had been overcome? Or was it celebrating the foretaste of its freedom?
Author and speaker Jennifer Rothschild says, "the earth that God himself created was responding to this unbelievable world-altering act. Jesus himself spoke the world into being. I believe that when he was crucified the world itself shook because its creator had done something that was even more amazing than creating the world. He was creating a way for us to know God." (See her on the Day of Discovery's DVD, Six Miracles of the Crucifixion)
And the curtain in the temple, the heavy curtain that separated the Holy of Holies (God's earthly dwelling) from the people, was torn in two, from the top to the bottom. This could only have been an act of God. The sacrifice that Jesus offered to the Father, his very life, was an acceptable sacrifice, sufficient to cover the sins of the world. The dividing wall between God and man was removed the moment Jesus died and the curtain was rent in two.
Not only was the way opened up for the Jews who worshipped at the temple to have access to God, but through his death Jesus was making it possible for ALL people, Jews and Gentiles alike, to be saved. That is why the centurion, who had guarded Jesus and witnessed his death first hand, could boldly exclaim, "Surely he was the Son of God!"
We always wait till Easter for the big party. After all, it's the resurrection that we celebrate. But don't overlook the amazing victory that was won at the crucifixion. Our Lord opened the way for us, all of us, to know God, and even the earth itself sensed the wonder of it. It seems to me that even in the midst of Good Friday's somber mood a celebration is surly in order!