This meditation on Mark 13.1-27 is expanded from the Liberti Church 2020 Lent Prayerbook
If you participated in Ash Wednesday a few weeks ago, you may have felt the shocking way Lent sneaks up on us. It refuses to ease us into its contours and instead hits us in the face with as much blunt force reality as it can: You are ash. You will die.
For those uncomfortable with these sorts of truths, the text below does not let up. It is a scary and confusing one, speaking of death, torment, wars, and destruction–even among those most innocent in society. The confusion of this text led some Christian traditions (especially the 19th-century American Church) to separate these words from their original context and history and see them as terrifying images of the end of the world. Perhaps you grew up in such a tradition and read these words with that filter.
To the extent there is good news in this, it is that these words are not in fact talking about the end of the world. The bad news? Well, the truth of what it is saying is even scarier.
Jesus is not talking about an end-of-the-world Armageddon here. Instead, he is predicting the destruction of the Jewish Temple (which happened at the hands of the Romans 35 years later) and telling his people what to do when it happens. Just look at the verses immediately preceding the scary ones. Jesus says the Temple will be destroyed, his disciples ask when that’s going to happen and what will it be like, and then Jesus says all this stuff. When you start reading it that way, it’s pretty straightforward. But why does this matter?
This meditation on Mark 14.1-11 is excerpted from the Liberti Church 2020 Lent Prayerbook, and is for the second week of Lent. It is by Tara Ann Woodward.
Reflection: A Fragrant Offering
As Mark’s plot picks up speed toward Jesus’ death, the story pauses to show us a quiet interaction between Jesus, a woman, and Judas. In it, the woman anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume as a symbolic preparation of Jesus’ body for death. While Judas seeks to betray Jesus, she has a different sense of who Jesus is and his purpose on earth. Jesus is the only one to notice that “she has done a beautiful thing” by preparing Jesus’ body with perfume prior to his burial, and so this beautiful thing stops the story in its tracks. As the Lenten season unfolds, we don’t want to miss what God is doing in the midst of our hearts and lives. May her posture reshape how we purposefully engage the journey to the cross.
For each preaching series at my church, we take time in choosing a piece of art to reflect the content. This is a reflection I wrote for our series going through the Gospel of Mark.
Of all the Gospels, the Gospel of Mark is the most stripped-down, earthy, human depiction of Jesus. It is spare and humble, with an earnest pace, and ironic wink. Yet it may seem odd that we’ve decided on Tomasso Laureti’s 1585 fresco Triumph of Christianity as its thematic image—a painting that hangs in one of the most opulent, larger-than-life halls of power in all the world.
Laureti’s piece lives on the ceiling of the Hall of Constantine, the largest room in the Vatican’s Papal Palace. It is not part of the original design: it replaced the original wooden ceiling in 1585, six decades after the room was finished. This being the case, there is an odd tension between this art and the garish displays on the walls below; and this tension embodies much what we will be explore in our sermon series through Mark.
I usually never post items like this on the blog. But hey, it’s Friday. Below you’ll find a brief academic paper I wrote exploring different scholarly views on the ending to the Gospel of Mark. I’ve written devotionally on that ending before, but this gave me a chance to explore more of the scholarship behind it.
As a general rule, I don’t think people should put up blog posts that have a Works Cited page attached (haha). Such posts usually go against everything the blog medium stands for: brevity, clarity, and accessibility.
But as I researched this topic, I found it difficult to find similar, short, web-accessible writings and bibliographies like this so, in the interest of academic exploration, I’m putting the paper up here for all the future Googlers that might be able to use this, and for those of you that might care about some of the scholarly opinion concerning Marks’ incredibly odd ending. Enjoy. (You can also find this document on Scribd.)
BL537 Paper #1: The Ending of Mark
For centuries, the Gospel of Mark more or less sat dormant, gathering the dust of Church interest. It was a broken Gospel, after all. It was a crude, geographically confused, narratively-challenged, more-or-less bastardized version of The Gospel of Matthew. And what of that ending?
Having recently finished my own personal study on the Gospel of Mark, I just had a few thoughts on the ending of the book, what it meant for the early church, and what it means for us today. So, first, if you’ve never read the last chapter of Mark, let me encourage you to do so here.
You’ll see it’s really weird. There are reasons why most sermons on this part of Jesus’ story don’t often come from this book. It doesn’t have an actual Resurrection account. There seems to be some humor (the ladies ask “who’s gonna roll away the stone when we get there?” They look up and it’s rolled away and Mark adds, “it was very large”). The angels say “tell the disciples and Peter about all this”, but the women are scared and don’t say anything. And then it just ends (assuming the last part isn’t original, as we’re about to talk about). The ending seems to not carry with it the same reverence, awe, gravity, and seriousness of the moment that other Gospels seem to have. It’s almost playful. As far as Gospel accounts go, it’s definitely odd.