Session 6: Golgotha | Preparing for Prayer
If you have been following the different sessions of this retreat so far, you will have been led through a number of different ways of becoming more still and focussed. You’ll have drawn on the experience of your own breathing, of noticing the different sensations in your body, of calmly observing the ebb and flow of your thoughts and feelings. By concentrating on a physical object you have been led into stillness, and by paying attention to the sounds around you you’ve been able to discover an underlying silence within. Take a moment to recall some of these methods, and see if you can remember one of them that seemed to work well for you.
If there is one of these techniques that you have found helpful, take a few moments now to lead yourself through it. If you are new to these methods, you might prefer today simply to sit quietly now and prepare yourself to hear a selection of passages from the Gospel of Matthew. Following the reading, we invite you pause and use our supplementary Lectio Divina guide to help you meditate on the scripture in a deeper way.
Reading: Matthew 26:26-30; 27:11-14
And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Pilate Questions Jesus
Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus said, ‘You say so.’ But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?’ But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
The Soldiers Mock Jesus
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
The Death of Jesus
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’
• The story of the suffering and death of Jesus is the most extended narrative in each of the gospels; on Palm Sunday in Year A we hear Matthew's version, the longest of the four. He offers us a revision of Mark’s account. Mark had not played down the horror of the story; he portrayed Jesus as silent, despised and deserted until the moment of death, when, through the tearing of the temple veil and the centurion's confession, God vindicated his cause as a prelude to the resurrection (Mark 14:1-15:47).
• Matthew's account helps us understand better the meaning of the events. Jesus announced at the start of the drama, ‘My time is near’ (Matthew 26:18). At his Last Supper with his disciples, he explained the sacrificial nature of his death; it was for the ‘forgiveness of sins’ (26:28). At his arrest in Gethsemane, he admitted that twelve legions of angels were his for the asking (26:53); his refusal to resist reflected his own teaching in his Sermon on the Mount (5:39). As he died, his enemies mocked him as ‘Son of God’ (Wisdom 2:13), but we know from the story of his temptations that he will not misuse this intimacy with his Father for his own benefit (Matthew 4:6-7).
• His divine sonship was proclaimed at the beginning of the gospel (2:15; 3:17) and his disciples recognised it during the ministry (14:33; 16:16).
The title on the cross, ‘Jesus, king of the Jews’ was no error, since it was as a child king that the wise men from the East had given him gifts (2:2) and he had entered Jerusalem as a humble king riding on a donkey (21:5-9; Zechariah 9:9).
Talk to God
• Old Israel might seem to have formally rejected Jesus before Pilate, treating him as an impostor (27:25). But God had forgiven sinful Israel in the past and would do so again (Jeremiah 31:34): we must remember Paul’s words that ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable’ (Romans 11:29). If you need to bring your past or a particular sin before God today, take a moment to do so now, remembering that we have a God who is also our Father, full of grace and love…
• Finally, the earthquake and resurrection of the just which Matthew alone reports together with the death of Jesus, show that the turning point of the ages, expected in the future, had already come (27:51-53). The world has been created anew (Galatians 6:15). How do you experience ‘creation anew’ in your everyday life? Where is God creating things anew at the moment? Talk to God about this as we end our time of prayer today…