Mark's Passion

Mark's Passion 1 “Trials” 5am

Commentary There are two events occurring here. Two decisions to be made. Democracy and autocracy – both to the same outcome. The first is the high council. They meet to discuss practicalities – what to do next? They have their man, but now what? It’s very early in the morning, well before sunrise. Shadowy figures meet in council together. The majority rules. They have authority but no power to force an outcome. They must go to the seat of power.
So, in the half light they take Jesus to Pilate, the Roman Governor. This is the second event. A few tired soldiers pulling early morning duty, an officer to command them, and a figure of power that must be protected from “the mob.”
Who else is there, hiding in the shadows?
Close to Pilate is Barabbas, one of “the mob”, unfortunate enough to be caught, a bit player in events much larger than his understanding.
Jesus is the centre of all this attention, and he’s conflicted. Not because he doubts his course. He knew what would be happening to him from the moment he topped the rise and first saw the city laid out before him from the Mount of Olives. This was as he expected. No, he’s conflicted because even now his heart reaches out to eleven shadowy figures that are scattered at the edges of the mob, and a few others caught up in the action. Explanation Jesus once said, “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God.” Our hearts reveal us as we are, our actions confirm it. They are the visible “nephesh”, soul, the totality of what we are, and that is what these symbols represent. There are many in this crowd that are conflicted, confused, or just doing their duty.

Mark's Passion 2 “Humiliations” 6am

The hard sun rises early in these parts. The whole troop is ordered out to do their duty, but first some fun for some. Who are these soldiers, but you and me with weapons. Like soldiers in every army there are the small number who enjoy the opportunity for unrestrained violence, the many who just go along with it and stand around. There are those who watch with sickened hearts, those who turn away, and those who watch them for signs of weakness.
Soldiers have off duty hours. They get around. The Gospels record occasions when Roman soldiers mingled with the crowds that followed Jesus and some even sought the ministry of Jesus.
Should we be surprised that some of these are conflicted too? Some continue to watch Jesus very closely. Why the plural in the title? When the savagery of the human heart is revealed, all of us are humiliated.

Mark's Passion 3 “Journeys” 7am

Commentary Just a couple of verses, but important. An early morning procession on an execution day. The crowd is strangely silent, hushed. The soldiers do their crowd control. Scattered amongst the mob who watch are some women. The Centurion continues to do his duty and control his soldiers, but he continues to watch Jesus closely. Explanation There are many journeys going on here. I cannot tell you much about Simon. A dark man in the wrong place at the right time? Legends will grow up around him, but I suspect that he is a little like the figure of Barabbas, a bit player in events larger than his understanding. The centurion is definitely on a journey, but he probably doesn’t know it yet. He journeys in the shadows of a cross. The women who watch? Definitely. They are Mark’s real witnesses of what happened to Jesus on this day. Those named disciples, are not here, not in Mark’s account.

Mark's Passion 4 “Crucifixions” 9am

Commentary and Explanation Have you noticed how Mark names the hour, the times of the day? The sun is well up now, but it seems strangely chilly.
There are some in this crowd who know Jesus well, and love him. But most take this last opportunity to mock and shame him. I wonder what was going through the mind of Mary his mother right now?
The soldiers do their duty, as soldiers do” But some waver. Sure, they’ve seen many crucifixions. Romans were good at crucifixions. They kept the mob in line. The criminals get what they deserve, but one of these seems different, and “captain, my captain” seems …. “affected.” Not quite his impartial self. And don’t the crowd give it to him? They don’t get their hands dirty with this work, but there is plenty of blood to go round, and plenty of passion too. But there are some practicalities as well. Free clothes for the taking.

Mark's Passion 5 “Untitled” 12 noon

Commentary There goes Mark with his time call again. And now finally the bigger event is being revealed. It’s all a bit confusing really. This sudden darkness and reports of strange events that sweep through the crowd of onlookers. Who said what? Mark is unclear except for two voices clearly recorded, the voice of Jesus, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and the voice of the Roman officer, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”
Jesus is dead – trained soldiers know death when they see it. Something at this point has made Jesus “other” to his birthright. And this is all the evidence that the Roman officer needs to make his amazing statement of understanding and faith. He has watched, “and saw how he died” and is brought to faith right there, even as the curtain is split in two from top to bottom. Again, in Mark’s account, it is the wonderful women who stay close to Jesus and observe all these things. Explanation This was probably the hardest painting to paint. The curtain motif was easy, I have understood for years that this which we call “reality” masks something far more real. So now the curtain is drawn back, and all the bit players in God’s great salvation event are swept aside as the curtain is drawn to reveal all the possibilities of a new heaven and a new earth. A new heaven and new earth, yet at the same time, wonderfully familiar. There are echoes in this new revelation of former paintings, former landscapes, former visions, but here untouched by the human hand. Its just a glimpse, but it’s enough.

Mark's Passion 6 “Last Rites” 6pm

Commentary “As evening approached” Mark tells us; as late as you can get before you have to stop all work. He’s keeping the time sequence before our minds. But now some bits and pieces that we’ve seen before begin to spring into prominence. Remember the shadowy meeting of the “entire high council” in the first painting? That means that Joseph from Arimathea must have been there as well, and he is. And whose opinion does Pilate defer to, to assure himself that Jesus was really dead? “So he called for the Roman military officer in charge and asked him. The officer confirmed the fact.” I had never noticed that before. It’s the Roman officer who was called out to duty with his soldiers before the dawn to control the mob. There he is standing right beside Jesus in the half light. It’s the same Roman soldier who must allow his soldiers to do their soldier thing in their barracks, but watches Jesus and them closely. The same Roman soldier who escorts Jesus through the silent crowd, following the cross now hoisted by Simon. The same officer who controls the execution and observes how Jesus is hated by those who call out from the crowd. The same officer who observes the manner of Jesus’ death, and comes to faith. This is the officer whom Pilate now asks for confirmation that Jesus truly is dead, and releases the body into the hands of one of the high council. And the women still watch and note. Explanation The simplest painting. The tomb is sealed, the rock is cold and heavy. The circle of human life is complete, and those who had hoped, and dreamed, and loved, prepare to fulfill the last rites. I wondered whether I should have put the Roman officer in this painting as well, but decided not to. But he is in the under painting. There in spirit if not in fact. What a long day.

Mark's Passion 7 “First Light” 5am

Mark continues his time sequence again. There are two times mentioned here. Immediately following the Sabbath three of the women go and purchase the necessary spices to perfume the body. This tells us clearly what they expected to find. Then in the early morning of the next day, the third day, they creep to the tomb in the half light. But they are already too late! Explanation Big bang. Too late! Who are you looking for: name, place of origin, mode of death confirmed, but Jesus is already on another journey and we must follow. The women are the first witnesses, but I like Mark’s little touch of mentioning Peter by name – how does he feel right now? – and the other disciples. And the women do what I would have done, run first, tell later.
And the telling still goes on, off the canvass, off in time, off in space. The witnesses grow in number, and still do today. The effects of that singularity ripple on till we too go beyond the curtain.


Glory of Jesus
Wonder of Creation