Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bible Study: Notes on the crucifixion


I have a few minutes to eat the Mad Russian sandwich Stephen brought me from Popover’s as I prepare for tonight’s Bible Study. We are studying the crucifixion of Jesus in Mark 15: 21-42. 

We notice:
  • Jesus is apparently so weakened from the torture that he cannot carry his own cross.
  • A man from the country side, where Jesus is from, is pressed into carrying the cross. The names of his children (Alexander and Rufus)  indicate he’s probably a Gentile or totally Hellenized Jew. The Simon who promised to follow to the end has disappeared. A stranger Simon carries the cross.
  • His charge, King of the Jews, is a political charge, equivalent to insurrection. Thus he is executed between two bandits. These were rural guerrillas who robbed military expeditions and wealthy travellers to support the revolution. Different from Barabbas who was an urban assassin. One on his right and one on his left, where the disciples had wanted to be. Only not here. 
  • Much of the detail underlying the crucifixion  comes from Psalm 22, the psalm of abandonment, finally quoted by Jesus. (14: 34)
  • The mocking ultimately includes all sectors of the Jerusalem community: soldiers (occupying military), scribes and chief priests (religious establishment  authorities), bystanders, the general pubic. By now the abandonment complete.
  • Who are we in that picture? Can we understand the anger at yet another  who has once again left us with broken dreams after so much hope? 
  • Maybe at some level, people are still hoping Elijah will come a deus ex machina to save the day. But no. Instead, he made a loud cry and breathed his last. 
  • Darkness at noon. Like the plague of darkness in the exodus from Egypt story. But even more so, the darkness at the dawn of creation. We have returned here, to the very beginning  again.
  • Aftermath:
    • The Centurion has been called the first convert. Maybe not. In Mark, it is always the demons and enemies who recognize  who Jesus is while his own followers do not. Plus he goes to report to Pilate. In a true conversion story, he would have walked away from his job.  
    • Joesph of Arimathea’s burial has a white linen, like in the Garden of Gethsemane scene. But he would have no legal right to pick up the body. His actions are rushed, incomplete. Seemingly to remove  possible problem. perhaps more out of strategy than compassion. Like rolling the stone across the tomb entrance is the last word. Over.
  • BUT, Jesus is  not totally alone. The women are watching  from a distance. Two are named. One, the Magdalene. But the other, by her children’s listed names, could be Jesus’ mother. What’s important now is not that she is his mother but that she has now become a disciple. In this moment, that is all that matters.
  • Just when it seems it’s completely over, total defeat, the curtain is torn. What does this mean? By Jesus death, there is no more separation. between God and humanity. God has become one  with us. 
  • And it is a sign of the radical reversal of the expected, the sign of a new creation, that it is these women who will be the bridge to what happens next.

We conclude our study. Images of Sunday’s Passion still very present in our minds. 

As Cara and I are wrapping up, (last Sunday the Session noted how much Cara is becoming part of our fabric, quietly helping to keep things knit together, in her own way taking on some of what Teddy left behind...), Rachelle appears at the door.  A litany of complaint about her current residence, Capital Hall, and me, an educated woman...She asks if she can bring a cart load of things into the sanctuary, just for Passover... 
I say, Uh, no...not a good idea....And she says, Please pastor, think about it, just think about it...

Earlier in the day, during the organ consultation,   el borracho was in the back of the church checking his Iphone. Maybe Anna was right...

I wish Rachelle a good passover and send her on her way. 

There is a new young white guy I haven’t seen before setting up for the night in the north doorway. A few days ago, when I arrived, I found a man asleep between Barney Greengrass and the church on the sidewalk. I asked him to leave. Then noticed his wheelchair. And that he was a double amputee with no feet. He gathered himself up. Wheeled away.

Note: the notes on the crucifixion are again heavily informed by Ched Meyer’s Binding the Strongman and the new Jewish Annotated New Testament by Vanderbilt’s Amy Jill Levine among others. 


  1. What's in a "Mad Russian" sandwich?

  2. A Mad Russian sandwich at Popover's has black forest ham, chicken breast, bacon, tomato, melted gruyere and russian dressing.