Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Mark 15:21-47 - Dead and buried

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In Mark 15:21-47 we read about Jesus death on a Roman cross, and his burial. What more, really is there to say?

Let's look at some of the details.

Simon the Cyrenian - The Roman soldiers would have commandeered anyone nearby to help them when extra labour was needed. Simon was from North Africa and was called to assist; it would have been foolish in the extreme to argue.

Myrrh - Myrrh is the dried gum from a spiny Mediterranean tree. Mixed with wine, the resin acts to relieve pain and was used in this way in ancient medicine. Jesus refused it and therefore died from crucifixion without anything to reduce his suffering. Myrrh was also used in the Jewish holy anointing oil as well as the incense used in Temple rituals. It was used by the Egyptians in embalming the dead.

Insults were added to his suffering as he hung there naked and dying. Clearly the Jewish religious elite thought he was finished with once and for all.

Jesus was  crucified at nine in the morning and died six hours later. Darkness fell on the land halfway through his suffering, at midday. There is much symbolism in all of this.

His last words were in Aramaic, the ordinary language of the people in Galilee and still spoken in a modern form in certain parts of this region. 'Eloi' means 'Almighty' and is closely related to 'Elohim' in Hebrew and, indeed, to 'Allah' in Arabic. The confusion with the name 'Elijah' is understandable, particularly if Jesus' voice was indistinct as it might well have been just before he died. At this moment he had clearly lost the connection with the Father, a connection that had enabled him to say 'I only do what I see the Father do' and 'I only say what I hear the Father say'. He really felt abandoned and perhaps confused in this awful moment of death. He is every bit as human you and me.

When he died, the Temple curtain was ripped in two from the top to the bottom, surely symbolic of a new relationship between the Almighty and us humans. It is a new relationship that comes from the top, Yahweh initiates and completes this act of opening. The holy place is now visible to anyone in the inner court, a dreadful thing for the Jewish religious leaders to see.

There are plenty of witnesses that Jesus really died that day. There are the Roman soldiers, the centurion who was so impressed at the manner of his death, the onlookers who had been abusing him verbally, and many other men and women who were his followers and were watching from further away.

The body was taken down promptly after one of the religious leaders asked for it to be done. Joseph was one of Jesus' followers and dealt with the body properly and carefully, placing it in a rock-cut tomb.

Jesus came to live amongst us, and he was prepared to die to bring us into a living relationship with his Father. Are we willing to follow him? Will we live among the people around us? Will we become part of their culture, their daily lives? Will we be truly present for them? And how far are we prepared to go in blessing them and helping them? Are we willing to give our lives? Will we give our time, our resources our wealth, our abilities to touch their lives?

Or will we remain distant and aloof? Will we separate church from the world and make it an institution? Or will we, the church, take the love of Jesus and the presence of Jesus into the brokenness that is all around us? [Tweet it!]

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