THE SIXTH & NINTH HOURS
“And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘E′lo-i, E′lo-i, la′ma sabach-tha′ni?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And some of the bystanders hearing it said, ‘Behold, he is calling Elijah.’ And one ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (Mk 15: 33-39)
On this third Friday of Lent, I’d like to remember that Friday over two millennia ago, when things so radically changed between us and God. The “curtain of the temple,” which separated the Holy of Holies, God’s earthly dwelling-place, from the rest of the temple where human beings dwelt, was “torn in two.” The separation between us and God was being overcome in Christ’s death. He had taken on our “sin,” which separated us from God, and its consequence, death, darkness, and even despair, in order to “trample” all that and bring us out of it, in Him.
How is it that He brings “us” out of it, and not only Himself? Because He shares our humanity, our human nature, having become man. We share an underlying oneness, a connection, from human being to human being, both physical and spiritual, although it is easy to lose sight of this fact amidst our divisions. Our spiritual connection is our one-and-only Creator, God’s Spirit Who breathed life into us. Our physical connection, already obvious in the scientific fact that our genetic make-up is 99.9 percent identical, is made profoundly more intimate in the Body of Christ, of which He invites us to partake in Holy Communion.
Today in my “sixth hour” (i.e., midday) and in my “ninth hour” (3 o’clock in the afternoon) let me take pause and remember the “darkness over the whole land,” the “loud voice” of the God Man, crying out in our despair, and the “tearing in two” of that curtain of separation, through my Lord’s “last” breath. “In the ninth hour, You tasted death in the flesh for our sake, O Christ God. Put also to death our carnal mind (thinking according to the flesh, τῆς σαρκὸς ἡμῶν τὸ φρόνημα, плоти нашея мудрование), and save us!” (Byzantine Troparion of the Ninth Hour)