In some ways, Mark really is the least “theological” of the gospels. The other gospels, to varying degrees, do more to try and help “unpack” what Jesus is up to. They include more of Jesus’ teachings. They offer a little more explanation. They tweak things, just a bit, to not only tell us what Jesus did, but what it means.
Mark? Not so much. Mark seems content to just let the story stand on its own. As if, just by knowing the story, we will know what to do with it. And as a preacher, I find his restraint both inspiring and unsettling.
It’s hard as a preacher to know both what to say and when to stop. It’s hard to trust that the story on its own is enough. And I fully admit that says more about my own weak faith than it says anything about the story itself! But no where is Mark’s lack of commentary more obvious than in his telling of the crucifixion. (Well, ok, I take that back. Even worse than his crucifixion story is his resurrection story. Stay tuned for that!)
What does it mean that Jesus quotes Psalm 22? Is the centurion serious or sarcastic when he says, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”? What’s the deal with the temple curtain being torn in two? What does the crucifixion mean at all?
Mark, in true Mark form, isn’t telling. Maybe Mark just thinks it’s obvious. Maybe we’re just supposed to know. Or maybe, just maybe, even Mark doesn’t really get it. Maybe Mark leaves out the commentary because he doesn’t dare risk getting it wrong. And so, in an act of deep faith and great restraint, he simply tells the story, trusting that the story is enough.
Because the thing about stories is the more you know them, the more they become not just a story, but your story. I have books that I’ve read and re-read because something about them resonates with my life. I hang on to stories about my grandparents and great-grandparents not because I was there or even knew them, but because something about their story tells me something about my story.
Stories, the good ones, the ones that have some truth to them, work on our lives much like education or exercise. At the beginning, we do the work to learn or move, but over time, the learning and the moving start to change us. Change how we act or how we see or how we make sense of the world around us.
We may learn the stories, but soon it is the stories that are teaching us. That are forming us. Perhaps this is how Mark wants us to hear this story of Jesus, and all Jesus didn’t do in the midst of all that was done to him.
We learn through this story that at the end, Jesus was left utterly alone. His disciples, despite their lofty promises and even loftier ambitions, had completely abandoned him. His own people rejected and ridiculed him. Religious leaders turned on him. The political powers washed their hands of all of it. Even the other criminals, just as crucified as Jesus, mocked him.
And Jesus took it all and never turned back. Never changed course. Never returned evil for evil. Never held their broken promises against them. Never said, “I told you so.” Never condemned the ones that condemned him. Can you imagine? Can you imagine a life with that much clarity? Can you imagine a life so completely rooted in knowing who you are and what matters and what your life is about that not even death will change you.
You know, if there’s anything this global pandemic is highlighting, it’s how fragile so many things really are. And how quickly the ground can shift from right underneath you. As soon as we think we’ve figured something out, something else changes. As soon as we learn one new thing, we realize there are ten new questions without an answer. And the reality is, while we’re most likely in the worst of it right now, things probably won’t return to “normal” for quite some time. And even “normal” might never look the same. It certainly didn’t for the disciples.
But in the middle of all of it is this story of Good Friday. Of Jesus who did not and never does waver in his devotion to us, even when the cost of that devotion was death. Whose clarity in that one thing cuts through all the confusion and chaos of everything else. Whatever else was true, what was most true on that Good Friday was the certainty of God’s love for you. The truth of how much God was willing to give up to hang on to you.
Can you imagine? Can you imagine a life so clear in purpose and love that not even death will stop it?
Perhaps the invitation in this extended season of Holy Week is to allow ourselves to enter into the story. To see ourselves at the crucifixion and to witness the steadfast love of God that has already chosen you, no matter what broken promises or failed ambitions you bring with you.
This much is true. This much is clear. The story of Good Friday is your story. And whether you stay and watch like Mary Magdalene or hide and lie like Peter, Jesus stays the same. God’s love never changes. Can you imagine? Can you imagine a love so whole that not even death will stop it?