Easter 2019: Mark 16:1-8

Mark 16:1-8


He is Risen!

In Mark’s account, we have only the women going to the tomb. They bore witness to his death, they alone bore witness to his burial, so it stands to reason that they alone go to attend to the body and act as first witnesses to his resurrection. As they were walking along they wondered how they will possibly be able to get into the tomb. Perhaps a Roman soldier would help them. Perhaps a disciple would be there to greet them. Perhaps they could work together to move the large stone. Perhaps they could find someone else there to render aid. And so they went on their journey, walking and wondering.

The sight that greeted them was not one they had expected. “Jesus…has risen!” the messenger’s of God declared! He is not here.

Mark concludes his gospel with the words “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

Textual Criticism

If you are reading the King James Version, the text continues on without note. If you are reading any other modern translation, you will encounter a note about what follows. Let’s talk about that a minute (the remainder of this paragraph will discuss textual criticism). First things, first. Jesus did not speak in King James English. Nor did he speak in Greek. Jesus spoke in either Aramaic or Hebrew or (more likely) a combination of the two. The gospels are written in Greek in large part because that was the most widely read and spoken language (moreso than Latin) in present day Palestine and Northern Africa at the time. The other thing to note is that we do not possess the original writing of any part of the bible. This does not mean you cannot have confidence in the bible. In fact you can have a high degree of confidence in it. Higher than any other ancient text. Instead, a series of copies happened. The gospel message was so wonderful that, early on, several people decided to make copies of it so that others could read it. In fact we have more copies of the gospel than any other text from antiquity. Over time, individuals may have felt the need to insert explanatory bits. Sometimes these were notes, other times they may have been traditions, at times they may have even been imagined pieces that were missing or confusion brought on by awareness of other gospel accounts. Whatever the case, eventually extra bits made their way (often by mistake) into some of these copies. Once they entered a copy, they were likely to be copied by others again and again. So when you have a copy of a copy of a copy, all done by hand, this is the result. This is why textual criticism tends to heavily favor earlier copies over later ones. This is also why the integrity of a source (because some copies were clearly made more carefully than others) also matters. That is what lies behind the note in most modern translations. It also means, that with almost certainty, the Gospel of Mark ends at verse 8. Abruptly. So why?

The Markan Secret

Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is constantly telling people not to say anything. Don’t tell anyone who I am, he seems to say to people, to demons, to everyone. He’s holding it in secret. This ending is a continuation of that. The women, the only witnesses Mark records, said nothing. So what’s really going on here. Well Mark himself was not a direct witness to these events. He’s telling them because someone told him. That’s kind of the point. Clearly, at some point, someone said something to someone else. The women didn’t keep the secret forever. The angels absolve anyone of ever keeping their secret with their command to “go and tell.” So someone said something. And that’s kind of the point.

By demonstrating the opposite, the author is calling us to engage more actively with the text. Clearly it can’t be the case that the secret was kept, that the women never spoke again. I’ve heard this story. Here I am reading it. Exactly! You can’t leave it up to someone else. The word must get out. He is alive! Go tell someone.

marketing man person communication
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Lent 2019Day 46: Mark 15:42-47

Mark 15:42-47

He was Buried

Today is known as Holy Saturday. It stands between the cross and the resurrection. The cross is God’s ultimate identification with humanity, and the resurrection is the promise of the future. In the cross we find reconciliation, but in the resurrection we find victory. Today stands between those. This is where we live constantly. The battle has been fought and we are assured of a final, future victory, but it is not yet fully come. Today is a day to contemplate this in between period. We live in the in-between.

God in Christ so identified with us that, as the ancient creeds tell us “he descended into the realm of death.” This was not some fainting spell, this was not some temporary situation. This is not something to be explained away. When Jesus died, he truly died. Pilate did not take Joseph of Arimathea’s word for it, he conducted his own investigation. Jesus had really and truly died. So Joseph bought a linen cloth (Jesus’ own clothes having been gambled over by others), took the body down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. Watching over all of this again, were two Mary’s. They saw where he was laid, and they knew he was dead.

So today we sit in between. It doesn’t always seem like the final victory has been won. It feels like there is death around. The world is still not made right. We sit in between and must have faith for we know how the story ends/will end. But for now the story is not yet concluded, and we wait at the cusp of an as yet unfulfilled (yet somehow fully fulfilled) promise. Looking forward to the future, being affected by the past, sitting at the juxtaposition of the victory of the kingdom of this world and the greater victory of the Kingdom of God. This is where faith is made real and hope drives us forward. Sit and wait in the silence of the in between.

burial cemetery countryside cross
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Lent 2019 Day 45: Mark 15:21-41

Mark 15:21-41

The King is Dead

So much could be said. I hope today you will reflect on the cross of Christ.

I would perhaps recommend you reread today’s passage as a lectio divina, a divine reading. It’s a way of meditating and praying on the passage that comes from the early centuries of the church and survived throughout the middle ages until today. There is so much here, you could even take a few, or perhaps even just one verse and meditate on that.

To read the text in this way, read through it once again. As you do, stop and run over every word. Then pause and meditate on the meaning on the words. Think about the sounds they make, the way it feels in your mouth or in your head. If it helps, continue your meditation by trying to get an image in your head. Perhaps it is of you, perhaps of Christ. Lastly, pray your thoughts and the text back to God. Between each step, pause, breath, refocus yourself, and move on.

In the text there is so much. A stranger forced into the horrors of the day. Jesus’ refusal to give the sign people requested because the true God of love would not and could not come off the cross. The charge against him over his head. The sun being blotted out signalling that this was an end-of-the-world type event. The temple curtain torn in two, removing any and all barriers between us and God. The declaration of the centurion that this was the Son of God, and indication of both his divinity and his superiority over Caesar. Meditate on it. Reread it. Do it several times if you need to do so. Don’t rush past the crucifixion to get to the end.

Lastly, notice the women. There is no mention of any other follower, disciple, or other faithful member of Jesus’ group. Only the women. Surely that says something.

Holy God, thank you for your incarnation and death. We pray we not rush past it. We pray that we maintain our focus on you and your being. Amen.

grayscale photo of the crucifix
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The King has Come

Today we celebrate that the King has come.

Today we remember that his death was not the end.

Today we acknowledge that in his death we ourselves died, so that in his resurrection we ourselves will find life.

Today we reflect on the power and glory of his name.

Today we see the emptiness of the tomb.

Today we are commanded to “Make disciples” “through going, teaching, and baptizing.”

Today we marvel that God has become human.

Today we look forward to his arrival again.

Today, Yesterday, and Forever, the King is here and we praise his name.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Something that has really stuck with me about the account of the events of Good Friday was probably best summarized in a talk given by N.T. Wright. He begins talking about this question of authority that Jesus and Pilate had a conversation about (what amounted to his official trial). There’s quite a bit of background to this question that, in the talk I heard, Wright doesn’t really have time to get into. Essentially, Pilate is trying to ascertain whether Jesus is guilty of sedition, of trying overthrow the empire to establish his own Kingdom. It turns out, Jesus is 100% guilty of that charge, but not in the way that Pilate had suspected. The whole dialogue is spread of John 18 and 19.

Pilate asks if Jesus is a King. Jesus responds by asking why he would think such a thing. Heavily implied in Jesus’s response is that Pilate actually has no authority, but does as others ask him. Yet soon it comes about where we have a key line from Jesus “My Kingdom is not from this (ek tos) world.” This is not saying there is a kingdom and it exists somewhere, but not here. Instead, Jesus is boldly declaring that his kingdom does not arise out of this world. It comes from somewhere else. Because it comes from somewhere else, it will be achieved in a radically different way. Jesus is basically telling Pilate that the Kingdom is coming from God himself, and Jesus’s death will only accelerate its arrival. This is why Pilate tries to release him.

The crowd having none of it, Pilate tries to make him king, in a mocking sort of manner, and in the cruelest way possible. Pilate seeks to make him a king completely according to the ways of this world, through violence and insult. Yet it is to no avail. Instead the people remind Pilate of Jesus’s claim, he claimed to be “the Son of God.”

There is a heavy nuance we often miss today in our modern sensibility. Jesus’s claim to be the “Son of God” was not, exclusively, a claim to divinity. There are other, much more explicit passages about that (“I and the Father are one.” “Before Abraham was, I AM (ego eimi)”). Instead, it’s important to note that, by this time, the Roman emperor had taken on a very specific title: son of the gods. It is for this reason Pilate became terrified. This is a true and unmistakable revolution. It also leads Pilate back to touting his authority, rebellions must be squelched, after all.

It is here that Jesus reminds Pilate of what authority actually looks like. Pilate claims to have authority, but any authority he has “comes from above.” The dual meaning here is that it comes only from Caesar, who is in authority over Pilate, but also that it comes from God. That is if he has authority. As it turns out, Pilate does not act like one with authority. His wish, at that point, is to be done with Jesus and not to crucify him, yet he succumbs to the will of the people, those over whom he claims to have authority. Pilate wants to release Jesus, but that is in violation of his authority from Caesar. Still he wants to to release Jesus, but his authority is taken away by the crowds.

And it brings me back to this line from the lecture by N. T. Wright.

“Pilate and Jesus have this debate about authority and who has authority and where authority comes from. Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified, and Jesus wins.”

Pilate cannot let it go, and must admit Jesus is King, because he acted with authority. And there, on the cross, he is inaugurated. The Kingdom of God has broken into our world. The sorrow of the Friday will turn to joy on the Sunday. But let us not skip over the sorrow too quickly.

The King is dead, long live the King.

Jesus is more than a boyfriend

By Ntametrine via WikicommonsSo in the lead up to Valentine’s Day, I’ve seen quite a few posts making the very adamant point that “Jesus is not your boyfriend.”


Clearly the motivation seems to be one of annoyance, that is people wanting to be very clear that the sort of relationship you have with Jesus is one of the Creator of the universe to creature. That’s a valid point. There should always be an awesome admiration and reverence before God. So no, you shouldn’t act like Jesus is your boyfriend in that sense of casual romantic involvement. You shouldn’t listen to romantic songs and just replace the words “baby” with “Jesus” (what? I don’t watch Southpark, people just tell me about it, besides that one’s really old). It’s a bad idea. You shouldn’t go into your prayer time, or devotion time, or time at church thinking you are going to “date Jesus”, not even if you are single and it’s really hard.

Here’s the thing though.

In a way, Jesus is much more than a boyfriend. And the bible very openly uses the metaphor of a husband and wife to talk about our relationship with Jesus. So no, Jesus is not your boyfriend. He’s your husband, or at least your fiance (that whole “I go to prepare a place for you and I will come back again,” and “Drinking the cup of the covenant of my blood” stuff has marriage proposal written all over it for first century Jews).

So what does that mean?

The picture is clearly not meant to be romantic. But, if you think marriage is built solely (or even primarily) on romantic love, you may have bought into the lie of the culture that it’s all about sex. Granted, romance is an important part of human marriage, but it’s not the only part, nor even the foundation.

Did you ever hear married people talk about being married to “my best friend?” Perhaps you’ve used the phrase yourself, if you’re married. If a marriage is working like it’s supposed to work, that’s completely true. A best friend is one who “sticks closer than a brother.” This is a love that is concerned primarily with the well being of the other person, not temporary personal happiness or pleasure. It’s not “me” centered but “you” centered kind of love. How else could you live with someone willingly after you’ve seen them at their worst? After they’ve openly passed gas in front of you? (if it hasn’t happened, it will. You can only hold out for so long). It only makes sense if it’s not about you.

So, no Jesus isn’t your boyfriend. He’s a lot more than that. And he wants an intimate relationship with you where you can be yourself and know that you are still loved in spite of it. The creator of the universe, wants that kind of relationship with you. He already knows you pass gas, it’s not like it’s a secret to him. He just wants you to be able to admit that you do it (and much worse) and that he loves you anyway. God loves you, way more than a boyfriend.

Dust and Transformation: Ash Wednesday and Lent Reading Plan

Ashes and Death

Well this has, in some ways, been a rough year (in many others it has been fantastic, but that’s not the point of this post). I’ve been to too many funerals (by the way, one is too many), and had friends and acquaintances nearly be killed instantly by cars, or be diagnosed with aggressive forms of cancer, and with it the looming specter of death. When I really thought about it, rarely are we ready or prepared for people to die. Even when we say we are ready, we always wish for one more conversation, to tell them about this one thing they missed, to say I love you one last time. Yet we cannot.

Life is fragile. As I drove in my car the other day I thought, any second I could be hit by another car and that would be it. Done. I don’t think of myself as ready to go, and I’m fairly certain it would be a heavy blow to my family. I know I’m not the only one. The same scenario would hold true for many people, and every day, at least one person in the world dies suddenly, unexpectedly, leaving a gap behind them. Not ready to go. It wasn’t her time. He was so full of life. A shock. Here as though there are years left, and gone in an instant. As J.R.R. Tolkien put it “It’s a dangerous business…, going out your front door.” And yet we do it every day. We think of ourselves as strong, as impervious. We make plans for upcoming years, yet actually have very little control over whether we will be around in those years to come. We are all of us ashes. Embers that burn quickly and then are no more.

Dust and Creation

As the bible puts it, we are dust. We are ephemeral, and cannot be gripped too tightly. We blow away in the wind. Here today, gone tomorrow. Yet the metaphor for dust, as I noted last year at Ash Wednesday, is not just for the fragility of life, but to remind us of our origin. God formed humanity from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him.

Dust you are and to dust you will return.

Rather than a statement of outright sorrow, though there is that, this is also a reminder of the new creation just around the corner. God makes something out of dust and breathes life into it. Lent is not a buildup to Good Friday, and the death of the Son of God. Lent is an anticipation of His Resurrection and the life that comes out of death. And by pointing to the Resurrection of the Son of God, it points to ours as well. In the midst of sorrow, joy. In the midst of death, life. As things are given up, new creation takes root.

Fundamentally, lent is also about something new, something creative, something constructive.

A Constructive Lent

This year, then, I’m not giving up something for Lent. I’m a Baptist and I have that option (we’re not really liturgical, just some of us pretend from time to time). Instead, though, I’m going to do something constructive. If you are going to celebrate Lent, and you haven’t decided what you will give up, let me encourage to you to instead do something constructive. Participate in God’s already present kingdom here on earth, and in so doing catch a glimpse of his return and the new earth he will refine out of this one. Don’t be legalistic about it, be constructive, building a picture of God’s Kingdom. Part of doing something constructive is something I did last year, a reading of a book of the bible for Lent. This year, we’re going to go through James (to look at last year’s where we went through Galatians, see the link at the top of the page). Below is the reading plan. If you just can’t come up with anything else to do for Lent, then perhaps you could join me in the reading plan (or if you want to add to what you have done).

James is a little bit shorter than Galatians, so the readings will be shorter. Also, I will try better this year to keep my own reflections relatively short as well. Most days it is 3 verses, sometimes 4, occasionally 2, and one day is only 1 verse. I think that should be manageable. I’ll be posting them shortly after midnight on the day marked, so if you do your bible reading in the morning it will be ready when you are. The other posts for this blog will come up later in the day, but if you only want to follow the lent readings you can either click the “Lent Series” Category marker, the tab at the top of the main page that will link to this year’s Lent reading calendar (also click here).

Martin Luther King, JR day

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Also, it being a Monday, I have in the past addressed “difficult passages” in the bible. Today, in light of the day it is, I offer a passage that we likely understand in thought, but fail to put in practice.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (KJV)

How do we as Christians reconcile this with the quote often attributed to the Rev Martin Luther King, JR:

The most segregated hour in America is eleven o’clock, Sunday morning.

It was true then and its true now. The two should not be. Think on this and how we, the Church, should be one as Christ is one with the Father.

By Phil Stanziola, NYWT&S staff photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Quick word for the new year

Just a quick word of hope on this, the second day of the New Year.

In the words of John Calvin, “Post tenebras Lux

It translates “After darkness, light,” and though it appeared in various times throughout Church History, it was used most frequently and effectively by John (Jean) Calvin, before being adopted by most Protestants. The primary meaning is to give hope. Night is always followed by dawn. Since we think about new beginnings on the New Year, it may be helpful to just take this reminder:

Whatever you’ve done, whatever you’ve neglected to do, what ever you’ve thought or said, whomever you think you are, God isn’t done with you, and after the darkness is light.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5a)


Hello 2013

What are you excited about this year? Do you have any plans or goals for this year? Are you going to try to read through the bible, or the New Testament? I’d love to hear it. I’ve got a few, mostly practical, such as finishing my degree and finding a job. The one less practical one is that I think I’ll try to start, in earnest, my own popular book.

What about you? God bless you.