The Stations of the Cross According to Mark

Introduction

The kernel of the gospel narrative of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection was most likely a liturgy in Jerusalem, conducted each year on the anniversary of these events. It was a practice, each year, of prayer and devotion. It was a pilgrimage to some of the main places around Jerusalem associated with Jesus’ suffering, dying and rising. The sites were quite close together. The first believers could walk around them slowly in an hour or so, on the Friday morning on which they commemorated these events. They knew that Jesus had done this walk. At each place, they listened to a narrative of what happened there, to a resonance of what happened in a text from the Hebrew Scriptures, and to a prayer. They also knew that Jesus was alive: he was risen from death and all that went with it. At the end of their time at each place, they recited an antiphon/response: 

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

The whole ‘liturgy’ was a kind of stations of the cross. But it was also, and more, like a profession of faith in the resurrection. The early believers went to these places, but in each one of them they knew that

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

The focus was always on him, not what happened to him, on him risen, not still suffering, on him here now, not there then.

The main ‘stops’ were at places like the Upper Room, Gethsemane, the house of the High Priest, the Sanhedrin, the palace of Pilate, Calvary, and the Holy Sepulchre.

You could call it all, THE WALK FROM GETHSEMANE TO GOLGOTHA.It is the Way of the Risen One, retracing his own steps to resurrection.

Mark’s gospel is not very accurate about geography in most of its chapters, but when it comes to the passion, it is quite specific about these locations. Mark’s gospel proceeds in staccato fashion through most of its text, but when it comes to the passion, it is less rushed and packed and scattered, and there is a different and central message that flows through it all. It is not about these places then. It is about Jesus now.

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

Location 1. the Upper Room

The Isolation of Jesus 1

The last supper may have been beautiful, but its end was not. Jesus knows it will all happen tonight. It will happen now.

Jesus is increasingly alone. He is more and more isolated. The disciples run away from him. Peter denies him. His men disciples leave him. Judas betrays him. The high priest condemns him, Pilate rejects him. The soldiers abuse him. And in the end, even God abandons him. My God, my God, why have you too abandoned me? There is an intense progression into more and more isolation. There is a merciless focus on the one person of Jesus. He carries the whole meaning of it all. He carries it alone.

But now, he is not in that isolation,

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

Location2. Gesthsemane and Afterwards

The Stupidity of it all 

It is impossible to hear the prayer of Jesus without hearing him scream out for meaning in all this. He never gets an answer. Meaning isn’t the answer.

There is a chilling and strange feeling about it. There is no rationality in it. A midnight excuse for a ‘trial’ with unsubstantiated and almost incoherent accusations. A condemnation based on nothing. A preference for a thug (Barabbas) over Jesus. This is a senseless nightmare. The story is told from the sole perspective of the victim…Jesus…who can’t understand it any more than we can.

But he has risen out of that experience,

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

 Location 3. The House of the High Priest

The Power Factor 

Jesus is the victim of violence, of totalitarian violence. He has no hope of getting out of it alive. He is locked into this victimhood by Power, arbitrary Power. In Mark, in contrast with John, Jesus has no conversation with anyone. In Mark, he utters only one statement. It is unambiguous. I AM. He is asked if he is the Anointed one. I AM. He is asked if he is the Son of God. I AM. It is the one important statement he has ever made about himself. He makes it to the power people, at the moment when he is stripped of all power. Only when he has entered fully into the meaningless nightmare, then, and only then, does he say who he is. I AM. It is the divine name YHWH. It is not just Jesus speaking. God has declared who God really is, at that moment. God has entered the meaningless nightmare, and then, and only then, does

God reveal God. GOD IS. I AM. I AM in the powerlessness. I AM as the powerlessness.

And that is why, and how, he has risen from this death.

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

Location 4. the Sanhedrin 

The Ultimate Powerlessness

Jesus, speaking the Name to the high priest, speaks of himself as the ‘son of man’. ‘This mortal being, this mortal person, here’. He affirms something staggering. This one, no one else, is on the throne of God. This powerlessness is the throne of God. This is where I AM. The whole of Mark’s gospel has moved inexorably to this point. There is here no possibility of – and no sense in - hope, or love, or absolution. Everything has been swept away. There is nothing there. It will not turn out OK, there will not be a future. And yes, it is the throne of God. This is exactly where God IS. Jesus stands in it in the place of God. I AM – THERE. Jesus, son of man in mortality, sits on this throne of God.
This is the moment of the coming of the Kingdom of God that no one expected, perhaps no one wanted. This is the gospel, happening. The new and different world to come, is this, now. This mortal man is now where God sits as God of the new order. It is the weakest point of human experience. It is the point of powerlessness, of helplessness, of nothingness. It is the point of God. The Kingdom of God is in this strange situation.

It is not in the fantasies we have of it.

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

Location 5. The Palace of Pilate 

Freedom From the Fantasy of Power 

In Mark 10 (42--) James and John ask for special seats, at the right and at the left of Jesus, in the Kingdom, when it comes. The disciples argue about who is the greatest there. Jesus responds almost angrily, all that is what I’m here to overturn. It is not to be so among you.

There is something deep in all of us, something deep in the closest disciples of Jesus, a fantasy. It is the fantasy of power. It is the fantasy that God’s power is just like ours, and that our power is just like God’s. It is the fantasy that the two are much the same. Jesus has come to free us from that fantasy. And from all the self-inflicted and guilt-focused misery that comes from that fantasy. He delivers us from that cruel imprisonment in that fantasy.

To do that he had to experience utter powerless on the cross.

But he is not there now. He has risen. That is our redemption, our deliverance, and our freedom.

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

Location 6. Calvary 

And the end of it all …

Mark’s gospel (16,8) has an unfinished sentence at its ‘end’. It is deliberately inconclusive. It doesn’t really have an end. Mark is telling us that whatever went on is not over, is never over, cannot end. Our conversion from the power model, our freedom from it, is never an achieved thing, either. It has no end.

We need to give up our compulsive need to be powerful, to get Jesus right.

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

Theme7. The Holy Sepulchre 

Resurrection?

Pilate set his seal on the tomb. God has set God’s seal on the Crucified Jesus. God, with and in Jesus, has permanently entered into the state of emptiness that death on the cross brings. It does not go away, from Jesus, or from God. And yet, if we could imagine a voice speaking from an empty tomb, Jesus is saying to us, I AM ALIVE. God is saying to us, I AM ALIVE. You just have to define living differently. Powerlessly. It will never be the same.

Women come to that place. They were in the experience. They thought they would never be able to talk about it. They say nothing at all. They find it impossible to find words to say it. Some words were found. They are in the gospels. We have read them, and that is why we are here.

But the words are not the important thing…

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

Theme 8. Wherever we are now

Resurrection is Relationship 

Resurrection is not something you can point to, as if a camcorder photographed Jesus walking out of the tomb. Jesus didn’t do that, he didn’t head for the palace of Pilate and say to him, ‘see, you were wrong, weren’t you?’ He didn’t do that. Resurrection wasn’t like that.

 Rather, the eternally crucified one was someone who was able to offer relationship to all the being-crucified ones of the whole world. Everywhere. Everywhen. Everyhow. They were able to trust him in a new way, with the trust that being-crucified ones can place in the eternally-being-crucified one. And they were able to trust in his God, who is also permanently being like that. On the far side of the most extreme crucifixion, but within the powerlessness it means, there is a new kind of trust, and a new kind of communion, and love.

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

Location 9. Where we Find this Information 

How did Mark Write This 

I can imagine Mark writing his last lines, his unfinishable sentence… I can imagine an iron-clad hand come down on his shoulder from behind him. A Roman centurion, or a Swiss guard. ‘I’ll have to ask you to come along with me to the Pretorium…. (the (Holy) Office).’

I can imagine Mark explaining to the Prelate there: here is this book of mine. Most of it is about the way Jesus died. This book is hard to read. But you won’t be able to lay it down. And you will never be able to finish it. It will be too much for you. It was too much for me. It was too much for Jesus.

You see, it doesn’t end. It can’t.

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

Location 10. Where we Have to Live From Here on

So what do we do now?

In the tenth chapter of Mark, when Jesus roundly refuses special places of power to anyone, Jesus answers our question, what do we do now? Give your lives as service to others; give your selves as gift to others. Do that, and you’ll know what it all means. There isn’t a theory you learn and put into practice. There’s a practice for which there is no theory…

While you still see yourself as important and powerful, you can’t serve anyone or give yourself to anyone. While you still see your service and your gift as the solution to someone’s problems, stop, don’t do it, you aren’t serving anyone, and the only one you are giving a gift to, is yourself.

Stop it.

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

Location 11. Where we can Look Back and Forward 

Where Does Everything Esle Fit in Now?

It is true that nothing could have prepared us for the death of Jesus (and the death of a certain kind of God). It is also true that everything should have prepared us for it.

The suffering and dying of every oppressed and put down little person should have taken us there. Not because they can talk about it. Because they were there. Because they are there.

When we grasp the revolutionary strategy of what went on there, when we let ourselves feel the strangeness of what went on there, we somehow widen our vision and see it all over the place. In minor ways, we can see it in all creation. In less minor ways, we can see it in human history, especially in the history of Israel. Isaiah will tell us, and the Psalms, and Moses and all the prophets….it is necessary that we die, and it is necessary that we don’t stay dead. If you really die, you can’t stay dead. He didn’t.

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

Theme 12. A Church that Believes This 

Is this Christian Faith?

In and out of the silences, in and out of the languages, there is a quiet listening. It is faith. It is a lonely moment. It is the unbelievable discovery of trust of a new kind, trust in someone eternally-crucified. It is the offering of our unfinished tracks into that experience, to the one who has gone all the way in them. It is the beginning (a radically different Beginning) of a new kind of Good News. It is the distinctive colouring of Christian faith.

HE IS NOT HERE. HE IS RISEN.

Many of us are used to 14 stations of the cross. We are used to the death of Jesus at the 12th station. I suggest that we now spend some silent moments reflecting on that station… and on all that follows it…..

HE IS RISEN, HE IS RISEN

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