When you read a book, do you ever turn to the back – or even do a sneak read ahead – to get a feel for what is going on? Or do you like to take thing in bit by bit and let the story unfold?
If you like a sense of surprise as you read, then you’ll be disappointed with Mark now. There is no surprise. There is no real sense of anticipating unknown events.
Not only is this a gospel which is written for believers, for followers, who already know the story and have committed themselves to the story, by the time you get to Thursday in Holy week, you cant help but know what is happening
Throughout the gospel, Jesus has made it clear he is going to be betrayed and killed
Throughout the week, Jesus has been ramping up the confrontation And on Wednesday, Jesus has been anointed for burial. There are no surprises here.
However it is still a story filled with drama. A final meal – with all the emotion with it. A betrayal, a denial, arrest, trial and passing of judgment This is all within the next 24 hours. Much of it we will work with over the Easter weekend itself, and we wont be jumping the gun this week or next week. We are in Lent and still preparing for Easter, and we want to prepare well.
It is important for us to keep sticking with Mark, and not mix the gospels. They tell the story with different perspectives, and different interests We learn different things from each one. As Mark tells it, this is a Passover meal. (In John it isn’t, it is a preparatory meal) And although is a very short narration of it (9 verses) it is a transforming meal. Jesus invests a lot in the meal in Mark, and nothing can get in the way
In Mark Jesus is fully aware of what is going to happen to him. He has taught it clearly But at the same time, Mark portrays Jesus in a very earthy way.
In John, Jesus knows what is happening because he has retained a deep sense of God-ness about him In Mark, there isn’t any suggestion that he knows because he has special knowledge In Mark, Jesus can see what happens when he provokes the powers. Pokes the bear. And he has seen that there is a growing disconnection between powers and the crowd.
But Jesus is not deliberately trying to get himself killed He is living with full integrity and knowing that it will come at a high cost.
The preparation for the meal is, in Mark, done secretly. In fact it is so secret that only a couple of disciples are involved (presumably not Judas) and the arrangements that are made have an air of a spy novel. There is a secret sign – the man carrying the water jar. Just unusual enough so that the disciples know who to speak with. Not so obvious so that it will draw attention to them
And when we get to the meal itself, Mark keeps taking us into extra meaning and depth.
You might remember that Mark is filled with story after story of the disciples failing. We will spend more time with this on Easter Thursday, but for today at least note that Jesus builds his understanding of betrayal into the meal
The other thing to note at this stage is that for Mark, Jesus death is not about the “forgiveness of sins”. That’s a Matthew & John emphasis For Jesus the cup is “my blood of the covenant, poured out for many” Other gospels say “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”. Not Mark.
For Mark, the last meal of Jesus echoes other meals in the gospel. Jesus has been criticised for eating with tax collectors and sinners. Undesirables For his last meal, Jesus carries this on by eating with the ones who have failed. For Mark’s Jesus, the meal is a sign of inclusion, of the kingdom of God.
And then in the sharing of the meal, Mark uses words that he has used before. Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke and gave it to them In Mark 6, we read that Jesus took the loaves and the fish, looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves and gave it to the disciples.
This is no accident of editing or laziness of Mark with language. The feeding of the 5000 helps us understand the Last Supper And the Last Supper helps us understand the feeding of the 5000.
It is the end of a long time of listening to Jesus teaching, and it is now that it is late the people are hungry Is that Mark 6 or Mark 14. Or both?
In Mark 6 the disciples have one solution – send them away. But Jesus has a different one – you give them food. Not some calling down of manna or stones into food, but taking what is there and making the ordinary into the extraordinary.
There are no passengers in the body of Christ as far as Mark is concerned.
Everytime that the disciples want to sit back and have Jesus be the one who is the magic Messiah Jesus corrects them, and often in no uncertain terms
The movement of God is about getting your hands dirty. Getting involved. So when we get to his last meal, Jesus is still about having people participate.
This is my body, this is my blood. If you are going to be my followers, pick up your cross and follow me If you are going to experience what God is on about, put yourselves last. For Mark it is not about Jesus stepping in as some substitution to make them special but involving them, having them as part of it as well.
For Mark, Jesus’ meal is the final summary before we reach the events that he has been teaching openly throughout the gospel He will be betrayed, handed over and killed. And rise again. And right as the last thing before this, he reminds his disciples that their call is to be part of this
Mark’s gospel is a high demand gospel. It would be easier if it just meant sitting back and getting forgiven for sins But it doesn’t.
We are invited not to be by-standers or passengers and enjoy some spiritual benefit but to keep going all the way with Jesus.
That is our Lenten calling.