Wednesday, 1 March 2006

Good Friday Talks 2006


A series of talks based on Mark 14:43-15:47
Mark 14:43-51
We are going in these three hours on a journey through the last hours of the passion as told by Mark.
Jesus has been praying in the garden of Gethsemane. The disciples have been sleeping. And now the crowd comes to arrest him.
It is a very sad and also all too common story. It is about how human beings do things that, at other moments, they could never imagine themselves doing. In this case, it is the story of a betrayal, a lynch mob and desertion.
Of course we justify our actions and we justify ourselves. It is human nature.
We try to show others how good we are, how worthy and how significant. We hide behind titles and honours and degrees. We build ourselves up with our qualifications and achievements and successes. And when things go wrong, or we do things we would rather not have done, we make excuses for ourselves: we blame the situation or the circumstances or the tools or our background or others. We compare ourselves with others and we say, "But at least I am better than her". We justify ourselves.
It is, of course, a fig leaf, a cover. It covers over what we have done and who we are.
And Jesus shows us that it is exactly that.
I guess that there might have been quite a bit of self justification as that first Good Friday came to an end. I wonder how each of the characters in our reading might have justified themselves
There has been a lot of talk about Judas recently, following the recent discovery and translation of a 4thcentury copy of a late 2nd century text. It is a text written by a group of Gnostics, and actually doesn't tell us anything that we didn't know already. But Mark's gospel tells us that Judas betrays Jesus after a woman has poured about £15000 worth of perfume over him. He criticises what the woman has done, and talks about how the money could have been given to the poor. And Jesus seems to say: 'At the moment I am more important than all the poor' - "The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could".
We are actually given a hint why Judas betrayed Jesus. According to John, he was a thief. He chose to love money more than God. He chose to love money more than people. No doubt he loved money for what could be done with money.
I suspect he justified himself:
He might have said, 'Jesus is an egotistical, self-centred individual who - intentionally or uninitentionally - misleads people, and he needs to be stopped'.
He may have justified himself by saying that he would use money to do good.
But it was a fig leaf. The excuse didn't wash - and even Judas himself didn't believe it. And rather than face up to the aweful reality of what he had done, and rather than come before God with a simple cry for mercy, he hung himself.
And then there is the crowd who come to arrest Jesus. They come at night and are armed with swords and clubs. No doubt they justified themselves: "We're following orders. We're coming to seize a dangerous man. If we don't get him, he'll get us".
We often demonise those who we cannot cope with and those who we hurt. We are the monsters, but we make them into the monsters. My guess is that the crowd really thought that they needed those swords and clubs.
Jesus strips that excuse away: He heals the man with the severed ear and then he says, "Why the swords and clubs? Am I leading a rebellion? You could have arrested me in broad daylight in the temple - where I have been preaching day after day. You've heard my teaching. I am the one who says that if someone strikes you on the right side of your face, you offer them your left. I am the one who says that if your enemy curses you, you bless them. I am the one who says 'do good to those who hate you and pray for those who persecute you'. I would not have resisted with violence."
The swords and clubs, the cursings, the vilification, the jealousies, the rejoicing when someone falls, the gossip, the rumours and lies we tell about others - they are all fig leaves for our fear and failure and sin.
You may have seen those adverts where you have the second hand car salesman outrageously conning a customer, and then asking how he can sleep at night. The advert suggests that the reason is a particular night drink. In reality the way that we sleep at night with our seared consciences is by sewing a string of fig leaves together, to allow us to pretend to cover our nakedness. But there are moments of revelation when the fig leaves slip
And then there are the followers of Jesus. They have been with Jesus now for three years. They've accompanied him, listened to him, watched him. And they still completely misunderstand him.
They are faced with violence and they turn to violence. One of them (tradition says that it is Peter) grabs a sword and strikes out. Perhaps they think that this is the moment when Jesus will finally use his power to begin to restore the kingdom to Israel. This is the moment that they have been waiting for. This is the way to glory.
Christians throughout the ages have used the sword or the force of the law to attempt to defend the honour of Jesus or to bring in his Kingdom. It is the 'we are going to make people Christian' mentality. And it has led to the crusades and the inquisition and the Spitalfield fires. It has caused untold damage to the name of Christ and it is a fig leaf. It is actually about avoiding shame combined with gaining glory for myself. I don't wish to be on the losing side. I want to be on the winning side - I want to be seen to be on the winning side - and I'll do what I can so that my side does win.
And when Jesus makes it so clear that the answer is not the sword - but that what he consistently said about fulfilling the scriptures and being crucified really was going to happen - the followers could not take it. They didn't just tactically retreat. They deserted him. Who, in their right mind, would follow a messiah who allows himself to be crucified and who will probably get them crucified aswell?
And suddenly, all the self-justification, all the bravado, all the claims ("I will never leave you"), all the statements of profession are shown to be what they are: fig leaves for self glorification and self preservation.
And at the end of these verses we are left with a young man, a follower of Jesus (possibly it is Mark himself), and he is wearing nothing but a linen garment. And the passage says, "When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind".
Genesis 3:10; And Adam answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid"
As we approach the cross, we need to realise that there is no excuse, no justification for our sin or our failure or our pride. There is no place to hide. Like that young man we stand naked before God.

Mark 14:53-72
In these verses we are given a contrast. A contrast between Jesus and Peter.
Tom Wright, in his commentary on Mark, states:
Peter loses his integrity in order to save his skin
Jesus retains his integrity, even though it costs him his life
I guess that these verses demonstrate what it means to save our life and yet lose it, or to lose your life and so save it.
There is Peter in the courtyard. Three times he is asked if he is a follower of Jesus. And the last time, we are told, "He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, 'I don't know this man you are talking about'." (v71)
It is so easy to identify with Peter. Yes, he is sort of following Jesus, but when the crisis comes, he bottles out. And most of us can compare his failure with our failure; his false confidence with our false confidence; his choice of the safe and easy path over the way of truth with our choice of the safe and easy path.
This week we had some of our Easter invitations left over. I thought that perhaps I could take them to some of the restaurants or coffee shops in town and ask if they would display them. All I needed to do was to go in and ask. And yet I almost bottled out. I certainly tried to think of something more important that I needed to do. I thought, "They'll say I'm a fanatic". You might think that is odd, because I don't worry about wearing my dog collar in town - but it is all right being a vicar, who's got a role to play and is meant to go around being the 'god person'. But actually inviting people to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus…
And that is the easy bit.
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· What happens when we have an opportunity to talk about Jesus with a friend or a member of our family or a colleague. In some places it can be social death to own up to a personal faith. It is very un-English.
· What happens when we are challenged about our faith? "You don't believe in the resurrection?" "Where's your God in all the suffering?" "Religion causes all the wars" "So where does that leave me, because I don't believe?" "Why has God allowed this to happen to me?"
· And what happens when we see something that is clearly wrong, when we need to make a stand
· And what would happen if our life was at stake…
Maybe there are times when we are gloriously brave - and we do see God at work in great ways
But, for me, most of the time, I'm behind Peter: I'm interested, and I'll follow him so far, but when the difficulties come, I keep my head down. And when the persecution comes, I may very well say, "I don't know this man you are talking about".
And then there is Jesus
Deserted, alone and on trial for his life - through it all he stands for what is true. His 'yes' is 'yes' and his silence is louder than 'no'
He has nothing to do with falsehood.
When he is falsely accused of planning to destroy the temple, he remains silent. He gives no answer because there is no answer to give.
When he is asked a question, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" he answers, "I am and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven". At one level it is a simple, 'yes'. At another level it is so much more. Jesus is claiming to be the Son of Man of Daniel 7, the personal embodification of the people of God who will one day come as judge of all humanity. And he is claiming to be the Lord of Psalm 110, to whom even King David bowed. Certainly it was enough for them to accuse him of blasphemy. And Jesus is saying to them, "Yes, I am, and one day you will see it".
He could have saved his life.
He could have compromised and put it in a way that would have been more acceptable.
He could equally have used his power and bypassed the cross. Yes, he could have summoned a whole legion of angels.
But he knew what lay ahead of him. He knew, probably from as early as the temptations, and certainly from his time in the garden of Gethsemane, that he had to drink this cup, because nobody else could do it.
Throughout the trial we see the astonishing dignity of Jesus. Even when they blindfold him and beat him, and say, "Go on, tell us where the next one is coming from", "and the next one", it is the silence of Jesus that is remarkable. He really is the sacrificial lamb, being led to the slaughter, who is silent before his accusers.
One final thing:
Peter - in his denial - calls down the curse on himself
But it is Jesus - in his faithful witness - Timothy, I think, who calls this, Jesus' 'good confession' - on whom the curse falls. Peter, by telling a lie, escapes. Jesus, by telling the truth, is judged and condemned
The high priest speaking on behalf of the nation, and - therefore prophetically on behalf of God - condemns Jesus and symbolically tears his robes. It was a dramatic way of demonstrating that Jesus had been torn out of the people of God.
Paul, in Romans, writes that if - through him being cursed and cut off - his people, the Jews, could again find God, he would do it. He couldn't do it. But he also didn't need to do it. There is one who already has.
Jesus entered the outer darkness for the crowd who came to arrest him, for his followers who slept and who then ran away, for Judas (if Judas had been able to face up to what he had done), for Peter, for the very people who cast him into the outer darkness, and for you and me.

Mark 15:1-20
You may have noticed a sub-theme beginning to run through these talks. Both the previous two talks have ended with references that Mark makes to clothes. I make no claim to have discovered a hidden liturgical subtext in Mark, but they are a useful peg on which to hang some of our reflections.
Here that sub-theme continues. The Roman soldiers put a purple robe on Jesus. Purple was a symbol of royalty. They put a crown of thorns on his head. And they mock him, they spit on him, they strike him.
This is real Abu Ghraib stuff - occupying forces beating the life out of a defenceless captive - taking out the muck that is within them on another human being. Maybe some were doing it with a heady sense of superiority combined with prejudice and a feeling that we can do it and get away with it. Or maybe some were doing it, even though they didn't think it right, because they did not have the courage to stand up and be different. Maybe some were doing it from a sense of self-loathing, frustration and fear. Anyway, whatever the reason, whatever the cocktail of motives, the result was racially motivated naked cruelty.
And in Jesus case, they didn't need to worry about photographs, or public outrage or public trials.
They turn Jesus into an object. He is sentenced as the King of the Jews. So they make him the King of the Jews - the sort of King of the Jews who suits them. They dress him in purple. They mock him. And then they strip him of the purple.
Of course it is not just the soldiers.
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We do it all the time. We give and take away. If you like, we dress people in purple - we make them into the people who we wish them to be, providing that they are there on our terms. We honour who we choose to honour, and we mock who we choose to mock. And then, when we tire of it, we strip them of the purple.
You only need to look at how we build up royalty, stars, politicians or sports heroes. We build them up and then we tear them down. And please do not say that it is the media who do it and not us: we are the ones who listen and watch and read.
There is a power and authority and status that can be given by men and women to men and women: but that can also be taken away by men and women. That is why 30th January 1649 was such a critical date in English history. It was the date that king Charles 1 was executed. And for people at the time it was like an earthquake - they suddenly realised that they could even get rid of kings. As an aside, I like the comment of the Russian at the turn of the previous century who, when asked what constitution his country had, described it as absolutism moderated by assassination.
And where we are in society and who we are in society is dependent on other people. If we wish to stay where we are in society, to get the respect we feel we deserve, or if we wish to climb the social ladder, we need to play to the gallery, even if it means doing what is not right. We need to conform to expectations. The crowd can make us. The crowd can break us.
And Pilate has been given that authority, power and status. He has been given it by Rome. You would say that he was a real 'king', in all but title. He has the authority to give life or sentence to death. He can choose whether Barabbas lives or Jesus lives.
But he can't: because he is controlled
· by the same fears, prejudices and pride, the same drive to self-preservation, the same sin and evil that controls the soldiers, and that makes them brutalise Jesus
· by the same fears, prejudices and pride, the same drive to self-preservation, the same sin and evil that controls the religious leaders, and that makes them hand over Jesus
· by the same fears, prejudices and pride, the same drive to self-preservation, the same sin that controls us - that makes us build up people and then tear them down
In the film Schindler's list, the commandant kills people for the sake of killing people. He talks about the power that he has. Schindler, in an attempt to save some lives, says to him, "Yes, but real power is when you can say to a person - who may have done you some wrong - walk away. It's OK". And you know that it is real power, because the commandant cannot do it.
Pilate with all the power, authority and status that Rome had given him, was powerless to do what was right. He could have set Jesus free, but he was a slave to a greater power. The power of sin that was at work in him. He had to play to the gallery and "satisfy the crowd". And so he closes his eyes to the truth, he sets Barabbas free, and he hands Jesus over to be crucified.
The person who has real power, the power that matters, will always choose to do what is right. The fact that we do what we know to be wrong, and what we know will mess us up and what we know will mess other people up; the fact that we do things that wound the God who loves us and wills the best for us - is a sign of our powerlessness. We do what we do not want to do.
Now contrast Pilate with Jesus.
Pilate has an authority and status that has been given to him by human beings, but - when it really matters - he is powerless. And men and women can strip his authority and status from him. Just as Rome gave him the purple, so Rome could strip the purple from him..
Jesus has an authority and status that comes from God. It can not be taken away by men and women. And Jesus has real power.
He has the power to choose to answer with the truth and be crucified, or to lie and live.
He has the power to choose to be obedient to God and die on the cross, or to disobey and walk away.
And because he has the power to choose, he chooses to do what is good and right and true.
The soldiers put the purple robe on Jesus
They thought they could make him a joke King of the Jews; they thought they had the power to make him and then unmake him.
They didn't. Indeed the fact that they mocked Jesus and crucified him showed that they actually did not have the power that mattered: they did not have the power to do what was right.
And because Jesus has the power to love, he also would dress us in a robe: the robe of sonship. He would make us daughters and sons of God, princes and princesses of heaven. But he would not do it in order to mock us and then unmake us. He would do it to build us up, that we too might become people like him, who have the power to choose to love.

Mark 15:21-32
Jesus, exhausted by a sleepless night, weakened by constant beatings is now physically unable to carry the cross. So they make Simon, father of Rufus and Alexander carry the crossbar. It is suggested that Simon's name is mentioned because the people to whom Mark wrote would have known or at least heard of either Simon or Rufus or Alexander.
When they come to the place called Golgotha, Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh: it was a sort of anaesthetic. But he refuses to drink it: Jesus chooses to be fully conscious. He has been given a different cup to drink by his Father and he was going to drink it to its full.
Jesus would then have been stripped naked and crucified - in between two robbers. They would have driven nails through his wrists and ankles. Above his head reads the charge: The King of the Jews. Pilate was having his little joke at the Jews expense. Here was their king, on a cross, crucified at their request by Romans.
Pilate could not understand that the cross really was the throne of the King. Not just of the King of the Jews, but of the Son of God, of the Lord of Lords. The cross, as we have seen, is the place of supreme power. It is the throne before which, one day, all who are seated on other thrones will bow. It is the place where the ransom was paid; it is the place of ultimate service, of the most costly sacrifice; it is the place of obedience and love.
In nailing Jesus to the cross, Pilate was participating in the coronation of the King who will reign over all kings and over all rulers. In walking the way to the cross, in choosing to go through with the cross, in staying on the cross, Jesus was showing that he had more power in the tip of his little figure than all the emperors and governors put together. And whereas their power lay in great armies and soldiers, in technology and a significant arms budget, in a brilliant administration, Jesus' power lay in the astonishing power that comes from trust in and obedience to Father God, and in the power of a life poured out in love.
And so Jesus, because of his love for us, enters the world of intense, unbelievable pain: I remember visiting a colleague in hospital who had had an unsuccessful kidney transplant. It had all gone very wrong, and he was in agony. There was nothing we could do. We could sit beside him, but he did not know it. The pain separated him from everyone; it isolated him and cut him off. There is a real loneliness in extreme pain. And Jesus chose to go through that for us.
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John Stott writes, "I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I turn to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me. He set aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death."
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And yet even then, the passers by hurl insults at him. They say: "So what about all this destroying the temple stuff" - and they do not realise that the temple is being destroyed in his death
The chief priests and teachers of the law mock him. They say: "He saved others, but he cannot save himself" (v31) - and they do not realise that in not saving himself, he is saving others
Those crucified with him heap insults on him.
And his clothes? They are divided up.
It is a picture of what happens with Jesus. All that he possesses is shared out. All that he is, is shared out: When Jesus took the five loaves and broke them and fed 5000 people, he knew what was going to happen. When he took the bread on the eve of the Passover, and broke it, and said, "This is my body given for you", he knew what was going to happen. He knew that in the going to the cross he was going to be broken, in order to be shared.
And on the cross, Jesus identifies himself with us in our complete brokenness. We do not worship a God who is up there, remote, distant and aloof.
He has, in his birth, identified himself with the poor, the homeless and the refugee.
In his baptism, he has identified himself with all those who would live for God.
In his life, he stood beside the bereaved, the sick, the hungry, the dispossessed and rejected.
Now, in his death, he identifies himself with those who break the law and who pay the penalty for breaking that law - whether repentant or not.
More than that: he identifies himself in a new way with the victim, the powerless and helpless, the mocked and ridiculed, the sick, the weak, the weary, the exhausted, with the person living in constant pain, the broken, the hungry and thirsty.
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The Long Silence
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At the end of time, billions of people were seated on a great plain before God's throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly, not cringing with cringing shame - but with belligerence.

"Can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?", snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. "We endured terror ... beatings ... torture ... death!"
In another group a Negro boy lowered his collar. "What about this?" he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. "Lynched, for no crime but being black !"
In another crowd there was a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes: "Why should I suffer?" she murmured. "It wasn't my fault." Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He had permitted in His world.

How lucky God was to live in Heaven, where all was sweetness and light. Where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.

So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, a negro, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the vast plain, they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever.

Before God could be qualified to be their judge, He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth as a man.
Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind.
Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.
At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die so there can be no doubt he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. When the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered a word. No one moved.

For suddenly, all knew that God had already served His sentence.



Mark 15:33-41
We come to the climax.
The one who has been betrayed by a companion, deserted by his followers, falsely accused, condemned to death, denied by one of his closest friends, beaten by the soldiers, mocked and then crucified - the one who has been insulted and abused by passers by, religious leaders and even those he is being crucified with - now nature itself turns against him. The sky turns black.
But that is only the beginning of real hell.
Jesus cries out, "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabbachthani" - "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me". It is the opening line of Psalm 22, and I suspect that Jesus is not quoting it to make a point. This must have been a psalm that Jesus knew and lived with. It is a cry that is coming from his very heart
He has been deserted by his friends
Now he is forsaken by God.
We need to metaphorically take our shoes off and tred very carefully here because we are on holy ground. What happens in these three hours between 12 noon and 3 in the afternoon is mystery.
The eternal Son of God, who has always been with the Father, who is eternally part of the Father's identity, who has constantly loved the Father and been loved by the Father, the eternal Son of God is cut off from the Father. Light is separated from Light. Love is separated from love. Very God is separated from very God.
When the atom is split, an enormous, terrifying power is released. When the Creator is split from Creator ..
And as the Son cries out, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me", the Father cries out, "My Son, My Son, why have you rejected me"
And in the very heart of God, because of an event in created time, there is both a degree of God forsakenness and an element of conquered death within the life of the Trinity, even though the life of the Trinity stretches beyond and outside of time.
I guess that this is going into the realms of speculation. What the bible does tell us, and here Mark is very close to Paul, is that Jesus Christ became sin for us. He became accursed for us.
Peter called down the curse on himself - but the judgement fell on Jesus.
He was innocent - but he was the one condemned
He had done no wrong - but he was the one torn from the people of God
And, with a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
And because of Jesus' death, an awesome power is released
1. The veil in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
This was probably the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. God was said to dwell behind the curtain. But now it is ripped in two.
We can say that the way to God is open. Anyone can go in. There is no more need for animal sacrifice. Another sacrifice has been made.
We can also say, and this is more scary, God has come out.
Whatever, the prophecy that Jesus made about the temple has come true. From now on the temple is unnecessary. It has been destroyed, and it will be rebuilt
2. The Roman centurion confesses Jesus as the Son of God.
V39: "And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, 'Surely this man was the Son of God'.
A Gentile sees who Jesus is. Up to now, Jesus has been a joke - the King of the Jews on a cross.
He had been looking for a God of power. He suddenly sees a God of love.
The veil has been torn not only in the temple, but also from his eyes. And as the commentaries point out, the Roman centurion becomes the first sane person in Mark's gospel to recognise who Jesus is.
That recognition of God, of who Jesus Christ is, of glory and hope in suffering; those encounters with the living God, those times when we read the scriptures and we see Jesus, or when we receive communion and we meet with him, those moments of realisation or conviction or encounter with the Living God - they are only possible because of what Jesus has done for us in his death.
However we understand it, it is the death of Jesus that removed the barrier that separated us from God, and it is as we look at the cross of the Lord Jesus that the veil is removed.
We run Introducing Jesus courses. They last for only four weeks, and the aim is to offer people an opportunity not just to find out more about Jesus but to actually meet with him.
And in my experience, the thing that will lead to a person starting to realise what it is all about is not:
· A miraculous event, or an event of great power (whether supernatural or natural)
· Amazing wisdom or eloquence
· Technology, publicity or education
But it is the story of a man who died in weakness and agony, ridiculed and shamed, deserted and misunderstood - but who chose to go to the cross because he wished to be obedient to his Father God, and because he shared his Father God's love for us.
That is what does it. That is what brings us to our knees.
John Calvin begins his Institutes of the Christian religion by stating that all knowledge begins with knowledge of self and knowledge of God. And that is so wise.
As we look at the cross we do become more aware of our own self-centred sinfulness. The fig leaf is stripped away. We can see ourselves in the disciples who desert, in the high priest, in Peter, even in Judas, in the soldiers, in the passers by. We become more aware of our need to throw ourselves on the mercy of God
But as we look at the cross, we also become more aware of God: of those outstretched arms, of the love of God for each one of us, of his identification with us and of the gift of offered forgiveness and new life
And all we need to do is to look at ourselves with honesty, and to look at him, and with the centurion to confess.

Mark 15:42-47
And so we move on to Easter Saturday.
Jesus has died. Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for the body of Jesus.
Joseph takes the body, wraps it in a linen cloth and lays it in the tomb.
That linen cloth is significant.
It is the same word that Mark uses for the nightshirt that the young man was wearing in 14:51. That is the nightshirt that is pulled off him when he runs away.
There it could be seen to be a fig leaf covering our nakedness before God. As the young man runs away, as he deserts Jesus, he is shown in all his nakedness.
Now the cloth is a fig leaf covering death.
It is one way of trying to make death acceptable. In every culture bodies are prepared and dressed.
Joseph and the women begin to do that here - but they only have an hour or two before the Sabbath begins. The plan is that they will then come back on Sunday morning, sort the body out and do it properly
I guess dressing the body is a way of showing our love and respect for the person who has died, and also a very practical way of handling our grief
There are pagan elements in it: preparing the dead person for their journey over to the other side. We have seen pictures of the elaborate tombs of the Egyptians, in which rulers and heads of families are buried with things, and sometimes even with people, who it was believed would accompany them to the after life. And other cultures would not necessarily go that far - but they would bury their dead with food or money. It was a way of trying to make the unacceptable acceptable.
Our society has gone the other way. We have pushed death away as far as we can. We have made death clinical. In fact - and these are the figures for Wales - between 1981 and 2001 there was a steady decrease of deaths in the community (from 38% to 22%), and an increase in deaths in hospital or in care homes. People usually die away from us, and their bodies are taken away to mortuaries and then prepared in chapels of rest. We've made death professional.
We don't really know how to handle people who are bereaved: we allow them to mourn for maybe a month or two, but then expect them to pull themselves together and get on with life.
But it is a fig leaf. It is the ostrich method of trying to deal with death. We dig a hole in the sand and put our head in it. For most of the time we pretend that it does not happen.
Death of course is unacceptable. It is the final full stop. It makes a mockery of our loves, our achievements, our dreams and hopes, our successes and failures. It even mocks our memories. A man was walking in a village in the South of England. He came across a memorial to some Norwegian commandos who had died in a particularly heroic action. The memorial read, "We will never forget what you have done". He asked around the village, "What had they done". Nobody knew.
It seems that death really does have the final word. It is more powerful than love and life. I remember as a 15 year old suddenly realising that I would have to die. It was as if my heart dropped into the pit of my stomach.
So what is Easter Saturday all about? What is actually happening? Where is Jesus?
There is something in the bible and in Christian tradition about Jesus preaching to the dead.
Whatever, the stark reality is that Jesus, on Good Friday, died. On what we call Easter Saturday he was dead. It was the final act of the compassion and love of our King.
He identifies himself with us in our life and in our seeking for the life of God
He identifies himself with us in our brokenness
He identifies himself in our suffering
He identifies himself in dying
And on Easter Saturday he identifies himself with us in death.
I am slightly claustrophobic and have a fear of being placed in the box. It is completely irrational. I know that I will be dead, so it won't make any difference - but the fear is still there.
But I know, because of Easter Saturday, that when my body is placed in the coffin, I will not be alone. Jesus is already there. He has not only identified himself with me in my life, but also in my death.
And one final thing.
Jesus was placed in the tomb, and a stone was placed across the entrance.
The stone was placed there to protect the tomb, but the stone is also another fig leaf. It was put there to separate us from death and the decay of death. It was put there to keep people out. It was also put there to keep the dead in.
And so we leave Jesus in the tomb on this Good Friday.
In our journey through these verses in Mark we have had to look again at our brokenness, sinfulness and our need for God. We have heard again the call to deny ourselves and to take up our cross. We have seen again what it is to lose our life and yet save it. We have walked with Jesus, and we have seen how, in his love, he has walked with us and identified himself with us in every way. He plunged into the depths of pain and death and God forsakenness. He became sin for us, took upon himself the curse, and paid the ransom. And we have seen that, because of his death sin is wiped out, the curtain has been torn, God has broken out and we can meet with God.
And now, we wait. But we wait in hope

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