The death of Christ on the Cross is a liturgy of despair. Because the disciples believed he was the one to save Israel seeing him defeated, brutally executed, and shamefully exposed assaulted their faith. The very ungodly forces they wished to exit the Holy Land are victorious and seemingly permanent.
The different people respond in different ways. Some are filled with overwhelming grief and despair. Heart-broken, they flee and keep a distance. Some are afraid for their very lives because of guilt by association. They even deny knowing him. Others, motivated by affection for Jesus, show courage and stand by him, yet their faith is deflated. They stood in solidarity, but they stood defeated, dejected.
This episode is more than the death of a religious leader. It is actually the trial of religious faith at all. It asks the question whether it is reasonable or fool-hardy for a person to maintain faith when the power of human evil and wickedness prevail over and over again. Does it make sense to open ourselves to divine power when goodness is so easily overcome? Does it make sense to see love as the most powerful force in the universe? Does indeed the sky not turn black as pervasive human cruelty and indifference batter down the advocates of non-violence and compassion? What we see on the cross uncovers a greater truth. We see humanity rejecting the healing of our ills, humanity rejecting the way of love and compassion. On the cross is nothing less than humanity killing God.
The sky turns black. God dies, exiting our lives, leaving us hopeless and inconsolable. This is what is happening on a spiritual level for the disciples, and this is what happens for us as we re-live these events: the Death of God.
Yet just as the barren ground of winter can spring to life in flower, events will transpire to declare a truth which is far from self-evident. God’s strength is perfected in weakness, as St. Paul said. The cross is not the location of the defeat of God, it is the victory of Love. A man chose to give up his life for love, for compassion, for us. Even though he was afraid and gave into despair at the end, in his actions and in his living he never betrayed love. This is true power.