Our scripture reading is long today. And this is the shortened version.
Some churches let this stand as it is – and we hear it.
Some churches break it into dialogue. Or have performances.
I want to introduce you to an old way of telling the story.
This is an Arma Christi, Christ’s arms, like chivalry arms – not human arms. The symbols all around this statue tell the story of our scripture with little memory nudges. I know it is quite hard to see in the far pews, so please come up and look at this as you feel moved to do so now – or after the service. I’ll also tell you the part of the statue I am speaking about as I read today’s chapter of our holy gospel.
We in the Protestant tradition don’t use lots of symbols and gold, don’t use statues and icons. We aim for simplicity and humbleness.
But things like the Arms of Christ originally came from humbleness. In the middle ages, the poor were not educated. They could not read. They were not taught Latin and so could not understand the words read to them from the Bible. They were raised in working families and living hand to mouth often.
Priests and theologians and nuns and monks realized it was easier to show people the stories of the Bible than to teach each of them to read. Learning to read took time away from feeding your family. So they came up with symbols for people to remember the stories themselves, and put these symbols on the churches, so the humble could tell the stories again and again whether or not the priest was there.
It is the invention of the printing press, and public schools, and machines that let us each be able to read, and each have a Bible, and each be able to call forth its stories year after year without visual reminders. (Although the printed word is visual!)
Now although this is a Medieval tradition, this statue here is not that old. This is about 100 years old.
So now, let us turn to the story and listen to its images.
We welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with palms and shouts of Hosanna.
Some begin to say – this is surely the promised King! The King who will throw out the Roman rulers and return Israel to its King David glory.
And some worry… Rome has a habit of murdering those who challenge them and scattering the people, or selling them as slaves…
Some begin to say — Surely this is the Messiah – who will bring God’s full reign here and make Jerusalem the crowning jewel of the world and all people to live in perfect harmony.
And some worry… if he’s the Messiah, then why does he challenge the religious authorities? Why does he let his disciples eat without washing their hands and follow other cleanliness codes? He may just be a charismatic sham.
In Mark, Jesus enters Jerusalem to the cheers, and he goes to the temple – where he cleanses it with a whip. And that scene is when some people decide Jesus has gone too far, and they begin planning to get him away from the crowds to kill him.
Here hangs a whip on the Arma Christi.
Thursday evening, Jesus takes the cup and bread around dinner, instituting communion, and asking us to remember him. And he foretells his death, and that Judas has betrayed him to these killers. Here is the chalice.
Jesus then retires to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. And there, asks the chalice, the cup, to pass him… if God wills it.
While he is praying, a mob and soldiers arrive with Judas. They carry torches and lanterns into the garden. Here hangs a lantern. They go to arrest the Light of the World.
But Peter pulls out a sword – here is a sword – to defend Jesus. And Jesus tells him no. From the very beginning, Jesus has been preaching not to give in to sin, not to payback evil with evil.
Peter – who later that evening will then deny knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crows. Here stands a rooster. He would defend him with a sword and violence, but not with his life and peace
Or perhaps Peter was telling the truth. He didn’t know who Jesus is. Messiah? King? Something else entirely?
And here is where our Scripture reading for today begins.
As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.
Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Jesus answered him, “You say so.”
Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.”
But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
Now at the festival Pilate used to release a prisoner for the people, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?”
They shouted back, “Crucify him!”
Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?”
But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!”
So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, (FLOG, PILLAR) he handed him over to be crucified.
Let me pause. Here is the flog, and the pillar Jesus was tied to. And you should note the irony here… Barabbas’ name means “Son of God.”
And, Barabbas is in jail for leading a rebellion against Rome. Jesus is in jail for potentially leading a rebellion again Rome, but definitely challenging the religious authorities.
Perhaps the people thought if Jesus wasn’t going to be their messiah, and just let the priests accuse him of whatever… they might as well stake their hopes on Barabbas. He, at least, has a history of fighting back.
So the “Son of God” Barabbas is released, and this Jesus guy is given over to the soldiers for torture, humiliation, and capital punishment – aka, death.
Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. (CROWN OF THORNS) And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. (PITCHER) And they crucified him, (HAMMER) and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. (DICE, CLOTHES)
It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”
“Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdæorvm. INRI. That very abbreviation is here, on our cross before us. The Latin charge of why Jesus was killed: for being the ‘Jesus the Nazorean, King of the Jews)
During Lent, we show the crown of thorns on our cross. And the purple cloak. Here on the statue are dice on a set of clothing. To cast lots is to gamble for something. Here is a pitcher to hold the wine and myrrh. This would have been to help with the pain of being crucified a bit. And here is the hammer to drive in the nails.
Mark’s writing continues…
And with Jesus they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”
In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.
At three o”clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, (GRAPES ON STICK) put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”
Let me pause again to explain… So in the middle of this solar eclipse, Jesus begins to cry out, “Eloi, Eloi!” Someone thinks he is crying for Elijah, rather than speaking in his native tongue. The story goes Elijah never died, but was taken up to heaven in a firey chariot. Remember? So if Jesus really is God’s messiah, then he won’t die. God will reach down and take him up into heaven.
So they try to revive Jesus, and keep him alive long enough to see if God sends angels down. They give him vinegar, or sour wine, in a sponge to sip. Here are grapes on a stick. I think the artist must have used grapes to help symbolize the last supper – which was with good wine versus sour wine. And, to remind us Jesus said he is the grape vine and we are the grape branches.
Does the reviving with sour wine work? No…
Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
The curtain, which separates the presence of God from people, splits not bottom to top – but top to bottom. Nothing separates us from God now. God is out – lose upon the world – and God chose to do it. God acted – coming from heaven to earth.
At this point in the story, not a single human has realized who Jesus is. Not a one. Mark has told us, we, the listeners. But in the story? They call Jesus the King of Jews and the Messiah. But now, listen to the man holding this spear…
Now when the centurion, (SPEAR) who stood facing Jesus, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
The first in the Book of Mark to know Jesus is God’s Son is a non-Jewish outsider, a Roman soldier, a foreigner. The ironies abound.
God is lose. Working in the world. Bringing all people to understand just who Jesus is, regardless of who they are and what their job is and where they are in life.
Our reading concludes,
There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These women used to follow Jesus and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether Jesus had been dead for some time. When Pilate learned from the centurion that Jesus was dead, Pilate granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, (LADDER, PINCERS) wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.
Here is a ladder for climbing up and removing Jesus’ body. And pinchers to remove the nails.
This Joseph did it, with the women who stayed faithful to the very end, and they laid Jesus in likely Joseph’s or his family’s own tomb.
No prayers for Jesus have been said. His body isn’t prepped and cleaned for burial. No one has laid any flowers or eulogized. He is simply wrapped in cloth, and stored away safely until the weekend has passed. Then the first day of the week the women will be back to continue to provide for Jesus, just as they have since the days of his mission in Galilee.
Our reading ends here today. With Jesus dead, in a tomb, and all hope lost.
Our reading ends with everyone going home.
Ends with death.
I ask, where are you today?
Are you here? Here at the cross? We all walked this wilderness of lent with Jesus. We came in with our palms, singing hosanna. We welcomed our king.
But who has stayed?
Who is here?
Who could bear to be with him, to carry the cross, and to stick to their faith?
Two Marys, who have known Jesus since he was in Galilee. Back in the very beginning. Some other women, who have been faithful. A few roman soldiers required by their jobs. Joseph.
Are you here, too?
Or have you ran in fear like Peter. Or realized along the way you don’t actually know who Jesus is?
Have you found the road too rough, and sought respite?
Have you wandered away when the miracles faded with the cries of hosanna?
I think we all have moments, seconds or minutes or months or years, that we question our faith. We question why stick around.
And sometimes we wander away. Or lose hope. Or mock what we once loved.
In the Gospel of Mark, no one “gets” who Jesus is until it is seemingly too late. They’re physically there – but not there in their heads.
We, today, cannot be at Golgotha 2000 years ago physically.
Can we be there in our heads? Our minds?
Whether with candles or prayers; hymns or quiet time in a garden, I hope you find time this week to reflect on the cross. And reflect on the miracle yet to come.
Think of those men and women who leave the tomb with all hope gone…
… and the pure wonder when they return.
This is a story to be continued.