Mark 15 – 16

Readings for this week April 15 – 19
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Day 1 – At The End It All Comes Together

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 15:33-36

The end has come. It is not an end that anyone around Jesus had been expecting, despite the numerous times that Jesus had told his disciples that he must suffer and die at the hands of the authorities. But it is one that Jesus has been contemplating and for which he has been preparing himself for some time. Many of the themes that Mark has woven throughout his gospel come together here. For instance, we’ve come across Elijah before in this gospel, but this time the mention of his name comes through a misunderstanding as some around the cross mishear Jesus’ cry of lamentation (quoting Psalm 22) as him calling for Elijah.

Perhaps the bystanders around the cross thought that Jesus himself was still awaiting the coming of Elijah, still awaiting the one “who does come first and restores all things” as Jesus himself had said (Mark 9:12). But the true Elijah had already come in the form of John the Baptist, the one who had prepared the way for Jesus, and out of which Jesus’ ministry to Israel had begun. John came, prepared the way, and suffered for it. Now it is Jesus’ turn to take on that mantle of suffering and death, and by doing so, usher in the kingdom of God that he has been pointing towards, talking of and showing the signs of new, restored life within, ever since John let out his cry in the wilderness.

Questions to Consider
Why did Jesus cry out the way he did? Why did he choose that psalm to cry out with? What does that say about his experience of God on the cross?

Prayer
Lord God, I am haunted by your cry of dereliction and abandonment on the cross. Better you than me, and yet it should have been me. Thank you for your undeserved mercy and grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – The First to See and to Declare

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 15:37-39

In the 1965 epic film The Greatest Story Ever Told, a nearly four and a half hour long film about the life of Jesus, with an all-star cast, the cameo role of the centurion at the foot of the cross was played by John Wayne. Yes, that John Wayne. It was, to say the least, a rather incongruous piece of casting, to have Wayne’s unmistakeable ‘Wild West’ drawl declaring “Truly this man was the son of God.” But in some ways such an unexpected actor was rather appropriate. Here at the end of the gospel, this Roman centurion, whose job it is to enforce the rule of Rome and execute criminals, becomes the first sane, non-demon possessed person in the gospel to declare that Jesus is the son of God.

He was not a rabbi, or a priest; neither was he a scribe or a Pharisee. He was not a disciple – they were long gone, disappeared or hiding in fear. He was a soldier whose job, at which he had had lots of practice, was killing people. And yet he stands at the foot of the cross upon which this Jewish man is dying – one of a huge number of men he would have viewed thus – and declares him to be the son of God. This is the way Mark chooses to relate the story, with this man the first to accept the true identity of Jesus. If a hardened Roman centurion can see who Jesus is, then surely it is possible for anyone – and everyone – else to do so too.

Questions to Consider
What do you think made the centurion say this? Why was it important for him to say this?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, you sent your son to save all of us; it makes sense that all of us should be able to recognise who you are, just like this centurion. Thank you for the eyes of faith you have given me to see who you truly are. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Risking it All

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 15:40-47

What do we risk in knowing and following Jesus? What in our lives might be put in jeopardy because of our allegiance to Christ? This might not be a question that we ask ourselves very often, particularly in the West, but it is one that many people in other parts of the world probably end up asking themselves many times a day if they live in places where following Jesus is a dangerous thing to do. It was probably the type of question that Joseph of Arimathea was asking himself as he went and asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. He was taking a massive risk in doing this. He was associating himself with a known, condemned criminal who had just been executed for seditious rebellion, and was asking the favour from the very man who had condemned him!

Joseph was a member of the council, and so had no doubt heard all the accusations levelled against Jesus. (Luke’s gospel tells us that Joseph had not agreed with the council’s decision to hand Jesus over to the Romans.) He knew what Jesus had said and done, and what he had been accused of. Joseph knew that what he was asking for was not something that could be kept quiet – word would get out that he had asked, regardless of Pilate’s answer. He knew the danger of being connected to Jesus in any way, and knew that his request would possibly place him in the camp of a ‘follower’ or at least a ‘sympathiser’. The consequences for Joseph could end up being very serious. But he did not hesitate to do what he thought was right to honour Jesus.

Questions to Consider
What do you risk for Jesus? How?

Prayer
Loving Father, help me risk more for you. Break me out of the spaces and places of comfort and self-concern that shield me from more of you, and that keep me from loving as you would have me do. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – “He is Not Here”

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 16:1-7

The women go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. That’s all they are planning to do. They have seen Jesus crucified; they have watched him die. They are heartbroken, yet still determined to follow Jewish burial custom and anoint the body of their loved one.  That’s all. Again, with our foreknowledge of the ‘end’ of the story yet to come, we can often think, “Ah, yes, they are there to witness the resurrection of Jesus, to see him raised to life.” But they are not. They are there to anoint the body of their son, friend, teacher. That is all they are preparing to do, that is all they expect to happen. So focused on this are they their only question is how they will manage to move the stone away from the entrance to the tomb.

So an open tomb and the words “He is not here” would be a shocking, world-shaking, gut-wrenching thing to encounter. It is inconceivable that Jesus could be anywhere else. He is dead and buried. There is nowhere else for him to be. His body is in the grave. Imagine how horrible that initial “He is not here” must have been to the grieving mourners come to anoint the corpse of Jesus. The body of their loved one gone? What has happened? What would you think if you went to visit the grave of a recently deceased friend or relative, only to be told by a complete stranger at the cemetery gates “He/she is not here”? Has there been an accident? A landslide? The body stolen? Grave robbers? What has happened?

Questions to Consider
How do you think the women were feeling on their way to the tomb? Why might “He is not here” obscure the angel’s other news?

Prayer
Lord God, you are the God of the impossible we sometimes lose sight of because we don’t expect to find you in the people and places where you dwell. Help me look further and deeper to see those unexpected times and places where and when you are. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Multiple Endings

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Mark 16:8

In most bibles, if you look closely at the end of the gospel of Mark, you will see there are several verses that are bracketed out at the end. There is considerable controversy around the ending(s) of Mark. While there is no controversy around the idea that verses 9-20 are a later addition to Mark’s gospel, there is intense debate over whether Mark intended to end his gospel at verse 8 (and verses 9-20 were added due to concern at the ‘missing’ resurrection), or whether his original ending has been lost (and verses 9-20 are an attempt to cover what went missing). There will be more on this in next week’s readings too; suffice it to say, we are going to be covering the implications of both options in various ways, but not making a final call ourselves, as even scholars of both views admit a definitive answer is impossible to give.

If we were to assume that where the genuinely recognised voice of Mark stops (verse 8) is where Mark intended to stop, what implications would this have for our understanding of what Mark is trying to say here at the end if his gospel? We know the other gospels contain what we call ‘resurrection appearances’, when Jesus appears to his disciples (and others), as well as Jesus’ bodily ascension to take up his place at the Father’s right hand. But if this is where Mark ends, he chose to include none of these elements. What are we to make of this? How might this ending be an invitation to make the story of Jesus our own – and to graft our stories into his?

Questions to Consider
What reasons do think Mark might have had for ending at verse 8? What do you think of the idea that a part of the original gospel might be missing?

Prayer
Almighty Father, thank you for speaking to us and revealing yourself to us in so many ways as signs of your love and care for us. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)