It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
The moment of Christ’s death had almost come. The clamour around the cross died away as an unusual darkness fell across the land.
It must have been deeply disturbing, as it tends to be when the normal pattern of nature is suddenly upset. It unsettles us, provokes our insecurity and reminds us how small we are in the grand scheme of things.
The darkness lasted too long to be explained away as an eclipse. This was the hand of God. For this to happen at such moment, could hardly fail to give rise to much fearful wondering at the significance of the events unfolding that day at the Place of the Skull.
It certainly appears to have had that effect on the Centurion in charge of the soldiers. And when he heard Christ speak so strongly and so confidently from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” – a son at peace, going to be with his Father - it was very convicting. “Surely this was a righteous man.” Jesus was right with his Father. Which meant he was right, despite all the opposition and hatred of the religious authorities. He was right and they were wrong.
It also was convicting for the watching crowd. They left the scene, beating their breasts in their consciousness of their own lack of innocence. The only ones who now remained were those who knew Jesus, including the women who had followed him all the way from Galilee.
What none of them could have known at that moment was that another unusual event had taken place at the same time, in the Temple at Jerusalem. Luke adds it in with his normal lack of commentary. But the implications were profound. The veil in the Temple was torn in two as Jesus committed his spirit to the Father and died.
The veil played a central role in the organisation of worship in the Temple. It served the purpose of ‘hiding’ the symbols of the glory and presence of God (the Ark of the Covenant). Without the veil, the priests would not dare to enter the Holy Place because they would have been immediately exposed to the Ark. With the veil in place, they were able to come close to the golden altar of incense that stood before the veil and offer their prayers to God.
We can only imagine the consternation that would have followed the tearing of the veil, for it made their system of worship unworkable, at least until they got the veil repaired or replaced. But for this to happen as Jesus died was hugely significant. For as later writers in the New Testament point out, the death of Christ and his subsequent resurrection have rendered obsolete the system of worship based on having the veil. For through the death of Christ God has provided the basis for forgiveness and complete, immediate access to himself on the part of every believer. The veil was no longer necessary. Indeed the whole system was no longer necessary. Its fulfilment had come in Christ.