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In most human societies appropriate burial of dead bodies is a sacred tradition. It matters profoundly that we ensure the proper resting place for those who have died. Yet, after burials happen, we don’t generally mention them specifically.
Jesus had said this would happen. For quite some time he had predicted his suffering and death.
In the final events of his life, Jesus seemed to be orchestrating events that might otherwise have been out of his control.
So, though the crucifixion of Jesus is horrendous from one point of view, it is also wondrous from another perspective.
The ending of the Gospel of Mark presents multiple mysteries. Most English Bibles print several options for the concluding verses of Mark 16, usually with notes that explain the curious manuscript evidence. The oldest manuscripts of Mark end with verse 8, the last words being: “because they were afraid” (ephobounto gar in Greek). The women who had been the first witnesses of the empty tomb and who had been told of the resurrection of Jesus by an angel kept the news to themselves out of fear.
The example of Joseph reminds us that there are times when we must act courageously in our faithfulness to Christ. Like Joseph, we may even have to risk our reputation or position if we’re going to acknowledge Jesus as our Lord.
What enabled the women to remain faithful even at the risk of their own well-being? Why did they stick with Jesus while the men abandoned him? Mark does not answer these questions directly. But the text does suggest at least one reason why the women remained: they had each other.
Though the twelve who had followed Jesus most intimately abandoned him when he was arrested, many of his followers stayed nearby. These, according to Mark, were all women. “Some women were watching from a distance,” including “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome” (15:40). These women had been close to Jesus. Mark notes that they “had followed him and cared for his needs” (15:41). Additionally, “many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there” (15:41).
What strikes me today as I reflect on this text, however, isn’t so much a matter of Christology as a matter of how God meets us at work. The centurion, in doing his job, had an unexpected encounter with God. This was probably the last thing he would have anticipated as he oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus. Yet, while doing his terrible job, there was God: God making himself known in suffering, God reaching out through the person of Jesus, God showing up when least expected.
Mark 15 recounts the events of Jesus’s crucifixion. In verses 24-26, Jesus is nailed to the cross, with a sign identifying him, ironically, as “The King of the Jews.” Then, “at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (Which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (15:34).
One of the great “discoveries” in recent times, made by many biblically grounded Christians, is that work can be worship. This insight is based, in part, on the fact that one of the key Old Testament words for worship, avodah, also means “work” or “service.” Moreover, Scripture teaches in many places that when we offer our work to the Lord for his purposes and pleasure, we are worshiping him, every bit as much as we do when we praise him in church gatherings.
There’s no doubt that Peter truly believed he would never, ever deny Jesus. He and his fellow disciples were sure that they would die for Jesus rather than deny him. But, of course, before long all the disciples did what they felt to be impossible, and Peter most of all.
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