“He has been raised. He is not here”. Mark’s resurrection is undoubtedly the strangest. So strange that later manuscripts add endings on to it in order for it to get all tied up in a nice little bow. But its original ends with the women fleecing and it says, “and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Well, we know they did tell someone eventually, because otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. But the more I’ve thought about it, this is probably an appropriate ending. The other Gospels make the resurrection too easy. Mark reminds us that this stuff is hard. It’s hard to believe, let alone share. There are a lot of reasons to doubt it. People who do actually seem pretty reasonable. But let’s remember, we do not serve a “reasonable” God. We serve a God who is decidedly unreasonable, that is a God who does crazy, awe inspiring, confusing things. This God does more than we can ever ask or imagine. This God always has another trick up the sleeve. And on this day, we remember that this God is alive, born into the world, and born in us, doing what God does best: breathing life into dead and dying things. I don’t always understand it, I sometimes even struggle to believe it, but I also stand here on Easter morning in amazement in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene. Praise be to God, who gives us the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.
And then it was over. Jesus is laid in a tomb. So final. What I’ve always appreciated about this story is that it is Joseph of Arimathea who gives Jesus a proper burial. He is a member of the very counsel, the religious system, that Jesus came to upset. Joseph of Arimathea is a reminder that many times corrupt systems consist of good people, who, in the context of their system, simply lose an honest sense of their system’s problems. Joseph’s goodness comes out here. He took great risk in giving Jesus this burial. But at Jesus’ death, something overtakes him and he can’t not give Jesus the dignity he deserves. It’s a beautiful part of the story. I think it’s a beautiful thing any time you see some one going out of their way to give dignity to another a human.
So Joseph of Arimathea lays him in the tomb, and like a vault door a stone is rolled over to cover it. You can almost hear its heaviness as it encloses the tomb. How final this must have felt for the disciples. We know the end of the story, but they didn’t. Their master, their Lord, their friend is dead and buried beneath the earth. They are marked men now too. They know the authorities will have nothing of this movement. They’ve lost their friend, and their own security is uncertain. There’s is nothing left to do but find somewhere to hide out and wait. But wait for what?
Meanwhile, deep beneath surface, where no one can see it, where no one can hear it, where no one can feel it, something is stirring. God is up to something. When the stone rolls over to slam the door on hope, may we always remember that it is there, buried deep beneath the surface, that though we cannot see, hear or feel it, God is up to something.
Mark 1:10: “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.” This is how Mark began. It’s easy to miss what’s going on here, because there’s a dove. The dove sounds gentle, quiet and peaceful, which I suppose it is, but there isn’t merely a dove. The text says also that Jesus saw “the heavens torn apart”. Think about that. That’s a violent image. In Matthew and Luke the heavens simply “were opened”, but in Mark they are “torn apart”. They are split. The Greek word is σχιζω (skitzo), and it means “to divide by use of force”. It’s not a gentle word. It’s where we get our word for schizophrenia, which literally translates “split mind” (it may be the most violent thing that can happen to one’s mind). It shows up one other place in Mark, and it is Mark’s two uses of this word that are why this series is called “Opening Mark”. Its second use is right here in 15:38. When Jesus was baptized, and in that sense given new life, the heavens tore apart and the Spirit descended like a dove. That is, when he was baptized and given new life, the place where the Spirit of God lived was torn open and the Spirit came upon him. And when he died, the veil of the Holy of Holies, the place the people believed the Spirit of God dwelled, and in that sense in fact did, was torn apart and the Spirit of God was unleashed upon the whole world. At Jesus’ baptism the the Spirit’s home tore apart and cam upon him. At his death, the Spirit’s home tore apart and baptized the world.
This whole Gospel Jesus has been turning the temple system inside out, outside in, and upside down. He has been dismantling an exclusive system where how “holy” or “clean” you are determines how to close to God you can get. That system centered around a place, an inner court, into which only the elite of the elite were allowed. In Mark, Jesus’ death is not just where our sins are forgiven. It is that, but it seems to me that it is not just or even primarily that. Jesus’ death is about access. Jesus’ death is about finally breaking down religious exclusivity and unleashing the Spirit of God upon the world, giving the world, the whole world (no exceptions), new life. The crucified him because he was a threat to their system and they needed to stop him, but you can’t stop shalom. You can’t stop wholeness.
Still today nations may rage, hunger may prevail, poverty may endure, but all, each and every human on this earth has access, is immersed in, is baptized in the Spirit of God. No one is excluded, no one is deemed unworthy or unclean, no one is denied. This is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is why it is Good Friday.
After the long journey by foot to the hill of death, Jesus is finally nailed to the cross and then high and lifted up. He hangs there like, and with, common criminals. And many would say, “yet he has committed no crime”. But he has. He has committed a crime. We must not forget that. Jesus is a criminal. He did not deny accusations of being a king, and in fact, he pretty much embraced them when he stood before the high priest. This is treason. We also kill people for that in this country today. Jesus was a criminal, and so there he stands, pinned to a cross, enduring a literally excruciating death (the words excruciating and crucify have the same root). He never complained. He never cried “mistrial”. He never lawyered up. He accepted his fate. Why? Well, many theologians will argue, because it was the will of God. Maybe. They’re way smarter than I am. I suppose the garden would indicate so. But it was also the will of Rome and the will of the religious establishment. It was the legal consequence of turning the ways of the world upside down, by bringing in what was out, by giving voice to the voiceless, power to powerless, and by raising up what was down and bringing down what was up.
So there he hangs. A common criminal. Tortured, mocked and beaten beyond recognition. Condemned to death. And with the literal spiritual weight of the world on his shoulders. Son of God. Son of Man. And without whom I would not know my name: Beloved.
And so it begins. This is the point in the journey where it’s okay to put theology aside and simply observe. For centuries theologians have argued about what exactly is happening theologically through Jesus’ suffering leading up to and on the cross. And these arguments need to happen. These are crucial scenes in the life of our faith- many would say the core of it. I do not want to dismiss the theological importance and necessity of the remainder of chapter 15, but I also think that sometimes theology can distract us from what God is trying to do within us. It can become a defense for intimacy. By dissecting the image, I don’t have to see it in its whole. By picking apart what it means, I don’t have to discern what it’s saying. Furthermore this Gospel has been, up to this point, about what Jesus is doing in the world. Suddenly it is about what the world is doing to Jesus.
So here it begins. Jesus is mocked, made to look like a “king”. He is given a crown of thorns. He is struck with a reed, spat on and then led away to be crucified. The hard gruesome message here is, I think, this is what the Kingdom of God looks like. We want it to be filled with glory, wonder and majesty. But this Holy Week, let the sobering image of a mocked, spat upon, struck down, and led away Jesus be our image of Kingdom of God glory, wonder and majesty. Let it sober your mind and heart. Let it work in you. Let God work in you through it. O, sacred head now wounded…
So now Jesus is before Pontius Pilate, the local political authority. I find Jesus’ response to the political authorities interesting in contrast to his response to the religious authorities. The religious authorities ask him if he is the Messiah, and he answers with a plain “yes” and then adds to it. He kind of sticks it to the religious authorities. But then the political authorities question him about being a king, he goes passive and silent. Why? I think it’s simple, and I think we’ve seen it throughout the entire Gospel. Jesus doesn’t give a rip about what Rome thinks. When Rome asks, “are you the king of Jews”, Jesus says, “you say so” because they do not even have the same definition of what a king is. I think Jesus is hinting here that he is not the king of the Jews in the sense that Rome thinks he is asserting himself as one, so this question is going nowhere. There is no conversation for Jesus to have with Rome, because Rome doesn’t matter. So, “you say so” followed by silence makes sense. If we go back to the attempted trap with the coin in Mark 12, Jesus is saying here now about himself “Rome is not my God and I am not Rome’s”. And so Jesus places himself fully into the hands and at the mercy of Rome, because, well, who cares. It’s just Rome.
I think Jesus’ handling of Rome is a good reminder for us of just how temporary the world in which we currently live is. It matters right now, to be sure, and there are governments that certainly do impact the course and trajectory of the world (like Rome and the USA), but in the grand sweep of what God is up to in the world, it’s all fading. God will be God no matter what the world is doing. God will be about wholeness and shalom in the world no matter what any given regime says or does. The trajectory of shalom may be slow, beneath service and hard to see at times, but it is a stronger trajectory than the trajectory of political power. Jesus is totally at the mercy of “Pax Romana” here. Rome has all the power in the world to affect his life right here and right now, and that is very real. But Rome, “Pax Romana”, cannot stop shalom.
I always struggle with Peter’s denial of Christ. It seems too fabricated. In the Upper Room Jesus says, “easy there, Pedro, you’re gonna deny me three times before the cock crows” (my paraphrase), and then it all happens so perfectly. “You were with him”, “no I wasn’t”, “yes you were”, “no I wasn’t”, “yuh huh”, “nuh uh”… cock-a-doodle-doo, Pedro. I also think it’s interesting that pretty much all of Jesus’ other disciples are long gone and no one seems to care about that. Can you imagine this scenario? All along you’ve been following Jesus, and not quite getting it. You’re thinking he can do anything, because, well, he has done anything. He’s healed, he’s cast out evil spirits, he’s walked on water, he’s calmed storms, he’s fed thousands on a little bread a couple fish. He can do it all. He’s unstoppable. Then he gets arrested. Well, he can get out of this, right? He’s James Bond. He’s Batman. He can always slip the trap. But he doesn’t. He lets them tie him up and take him away. So who is he now? He seems to have just given up. You believe that he can slip the trap, but he doesn’t. I think a healthy dose doubt is very understandable at this point. And I think Jesus might think so too.
Does Jesus ever really shame, guilt or condemn Peter for his denial? It doesn’t seem like it. He just states it as a fact that he will deny him, and he does. All the while, Peter is the one on whom Jesus says he will build his church in Matthew 16. Peter will deny Jesus, but I don’t think Jesus ever has any plans on giving up on Peter. I think part of that is that Jesus understands that having seasons of doubting him is pretty natural. Because Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, that means that he does not operate like this world. He will not fight with sword and shield to gain or maintain power. It will appear at times that the world has gotten the best of him, and his arrest, trial and conviction certainly fall into that category.
I wonder if Jesus expects that we will have days and seasons of great doubt. He doesn’t rejoice in it, but he also doesn’t condemn in it. I wonder if Jesus wants us to press into our doubt. The natural tendency is to fight it, but I wonder if doubt is like quicksand; the more you fight it, the deeper you go. I wonder if we need to claim our doubt more, if we need to own it. I wonder if they only way to move through our doubt is to press into it. We just keep moving, one foot in front of the other, naming our doubt, but continually looking to the hills where one day the gift of faith will come again. And all the while, no matter how deep we go, Jesus never gives up on us.