Environmental Stewardship Commission

Episcopal Church in Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection
Year B, Palm Sunday, Gospel Reading
(The Liturgy of the Word)

Mark 15:1-47
Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. 
     "Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate. 
     "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. 
     The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, "Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of." 
     But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. 
     Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. 
     "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. 
     "What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked them. 
     "Crucify him!" they shouted. 
     "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. 
     But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" 
     Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. 
     The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18And they began to call out to him, "Hail, king of the Jews!" Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. 
     A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. 
     It was the third hour when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, "So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!" 
     In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. 
     At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"--which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 
     When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah." 
     One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down," he said. 
     With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 
     The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 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!" 
     Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. 
     It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. 

Reflection on Mark 15:1-47
by John G. Gibbs, PhD

Earthly reality is here in the Markan story about Jesus’ crucifixion and death.  Abundant details allow no escape from this world into some other one: the crown of thorns, the governor’s courtyard, a reed, the place of a skull, wine mixed with myrrh, darkness at noon, a sponge with sour wine, a stick, the curtain of the temple, the body dead for some time, a linen cloth, a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock, a stone against the door of the tomb.

Within 8 more verses the gospel ends with the terror and amazement of those who had seen the empty tomb,  “So they went out and fled from the tomb…and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Nature thus witnessed the death of Jesus.  As in the apocalyptic literature that was already in circulation by Mark’s time, the cosmic totality and humanity are bound together.  What happens in the one affects the other.  God may work through the powers of nature to obstruct human wrongdoing, or humanity may be in the image of God when they live peacefully and benevolently toward their environing world (Genesis 1:26-31; Isaiah 11:6-9).

Whether there literally was a darkness of three hours that began at Noon we have no way to confirm independently.  Even if we could, however, Mark places major emphasis on the this-worldliness of “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ…” (1:1).  Metaphorically for sure the darkness that descended on Jesus and the disciples was not theirs alone to bear.  “Darkness came over the whole land…(15:33).

 The consequences of murder resound from heaven: “Listen: your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Genesis 4:10). If blood pollutes the land (Numbers 35:33), then certainly profound darkness descends over that scene. “You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell; for I the Lord dwell [there]” (Numbers 35:34).

Jesus’ descent (Philippians 2:5-7) led him within 5 days beyond others’ expectations of Davidic splendor, as was the case in the Palm Sunday crowds (Mark 11:9-10), into this depth of darkness and death, which evokes the psalmist’s despair of God-forsakenness (Psalm 22:1-2).

To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament 
Isaiah 45:21-25 or 52:13-53:12
New Testament 
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark (14:32-72) 15:1-39 (40-49)
 this page

John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN.   He originally wrote this reflection in 2002.  He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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