by Rebecca Boardman, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), Regional Manager for East Asia, Oceania and Europe
NOTES ON THE READINGS
Old Testament – Isaiah 50:4-9a
The musings of the prophet Isaiah who is trying to make sense of exile. This text deepens our understanding of Jesus’ journey to the cross, highlighting injustice and describing the suffering of the servant at the hands of his enemy. It vividly depicts human willingness to destroy someone who had only done good.
Psalm – 31:9-16
Expresses the suffering and pain of the rejection, betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus. The same pain that we continue to cause as we destroy God’s creation
Epistle – Philippians 2:5-11
This passage is one of the earliest Christian hymns and confessions of faith. Paul’s letter outlines a pastoral theology and is asking people to shift their mind-set/ their attitudes. It is a calling to live in the identity of who we are in Christ and outlines Christ’s commitment to serve people at the greatest personal cost. Christ was not a passive victim but chose to take upon himself the sins of the world as an example of pure love and service. It is through the example of Christ that we are able to see God’s character of selfless love.
Gospel – Mark 14:1-15:47
The fast pace of Mark’s gospel slows down to narrate Jesus’ crucifixion and the event preceding it. N Clayton Croy (2009) helpfully segments this passage into four segments:
1. Preparation and Passover (Mark 14:1-25)
Here we see two ritual acts before the passion: the extravagant devotion of the women who anoints Jesus’ feet, and the Passover which remembers Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt with the discussion of the Passover lamb alluding to Christ’s crucifixion. In celebrating the Passover, we are introduced to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper (the ritual becomes personal to Jesus Christ).
2. Supplication and Seizure (Mark 14:26-52)
Jesus and the disciples travel to Gethsemane. Jesus speaks of being “deeply grieved” and is “distressed and agitated” at the events that he knows will occur. As Jesus prays the disciples are able sleep in spite of Jesus’ request to stay awake. Judas arrives betraying Jesus and leading to Jesus’ arrest. Although the disciples had committed to standing by Jesus each flee, abandon or deny Jesus on his arrest demonstrating cowardice and failure.
3. Trials and Denials (Mark 14:53 – 15:15)
Jesus is taken to trial before the council and high priest. While the testimony against Jesus by others is contradictory, false or inadequate. When asked directly Jesus states/confesses that he is the “Son of Man”. Jesus is bound and handed over to Pilate. At the time of the Passover festival Pilate had the opportunity to release a prisoner however chose to appease the crowd releasing Barabbas rather than Jesus. The story of Peter’s denial of Jesus (three times) in inter-wowen with this narrative.
4. Ridicule, Crucifixion, Death and Entombment (Mark 15:16-47)
Jesus is handed over to Roman soldiers where we read of horrific verbal and physical abuse. Crucifixion at this time was a punishment that combined execution, humiliation and deterrence. In Mark’s gospel here we see the deeply human portrayal of Jesus particularly in his cry in vs 34 “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and in vs 37 when we hear that “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last”. We hear of the temple certain being torn in to and the affirmation by a Roman soldier of Jesus’ divine nature. The passion narrative ends with the burial scene. It is to note that the presence of women at this point
DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE
As we consider todays texts I would like for us to think about the points of contrast between the action and attitude of Jesus and the action and attitude of his disciples. In the Epistle Paul calls us to live in the identity of who we are in Christ. What can the gospel reading illuminate to us about the gaps between our thoughts and actions as we endeavour to be disciples of Christ and the character of God which is showed in the most selfless loving way in the narrative of the Passion.
a) Identifying and worshiping the divine
At the beginning of today’s passage, we read of the women who anoints Jesus with costly ointment from an alabaster jar (14v3-9). The disciples label this act as a waste of resource because the ointment could have been sold and given to the poor whereas Jesus says that “she has performed a good service to me”. While many may not see this as a helpful story when thinking about stewardship I think that this passage is incredibly helpful when thinking about value. The women who anointed Jesus with oil knew the deep and rich value that came from a living relationship with Christ so much so that demonstrating this love was worth using an expensive and likely imported ointment. She was able to see this in a way that the disciples were not. She valued God incarnate in a way that meant that only extravagant love was a response. Her response is a deeply human response to the extravagant love of God revealed in Christ.
God is made visible to us in the beauty, majesty and awe of God’s creation. What would happen if like the women in Mark’s gospel who we can see the immense value of God in creation? What would extravagant love to our planet look like if we fully appreciated this?
b) “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake”
In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus is prayerfully discerning what may lie ahead for him. His disciples are not. In response and preparation Jesus commits himself to prayer: asking not to have to face the violence ahead but submitting to the will of God (vs 36). However, the disciples fall asleep even after Jesus’ instruction: “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Here we see a difference between how much Jesus and the disciples are ‘grieved’ by what lays ahead. For Jesus his prayer is impassioned, whereas the disciples are only superficially affected by the events and as such they are able to fall asleep. The violence that Jesus is speaking to is not simply the physical violence of crucifixion but the spiritual violence of being separated from God and in acknowledging the pain of this.
When we consider our planet I think that we may also enter into this grieving of the sins of people in the destruction and exploitation of the planet and how this is a demonstration of our brokenness from a deep connection with God. It is from the emotions of anguish, grief and distress that we are able to lament the destruction of our planet and our separation from God. Do we enter into these emotions responding with fervent prayer to God or do we fall asleep distracted by other things? By what things are we distracted and what can help us be more intentional in our prayer for the reconciliation of all of creation?
c) On trial
When Jesus is on trial he speaks to the absolute truth that he is the “Son of Man” he does not deny his divine relationship with God. Peter, in a similar way is on trial -not in question of his own identity but in regards to his knowing Jesus – but Peter denies Jesus three times because he is afraid of the consequences of the authorities and powers.
In light of injustices such as our climate and ecological crisis, the exploitation of people and our planet, in what ways do we deny the truth because it is easier for us? Power today may come from societal expectation, from ideas of wealth and progress and success. Power can come from wealthy corporations or governments who wish to push their aims and greed despite the cost to people. Standing up and speaking truth to the structures of power can be costly. Will we be like Peter and deny the truth that God has called us to stand for justice and the care of all of creation?
Bible Study resources:
USPGs 2021 Bible Study Course ‘For Such a Time as This’ considers the biblical narrative of salvation in respect to care of creation and justice for all. The six week study includes voices and perspectives from across the Anglican Communion including: India, Belize, Mozambique and Japan. The course can be accessed online at https://www.uspg.org.uk/engage/support5/forsuchatime/lent-course-2021/ and this web page also includes video presentations from the authors of each week’s reflection.
A number of liturgical resources from across the world church have been collated in the following document: https://d3hgrlq6yacptf.cloudfront.net/uspg/content/pages/documents/CLimateSundayResource.pdf
by Rebecca Boardman, USPG, UK