Because I was doing doctoral studies at the time, I able to be home when my father died, even able to stay a couple of weeks afterwards, with my Mother. So I was with her when those initial days of funeral preparation, and its frenzied aftermath of calls and visits, had passed.
Strange, how family members almost never set down, across from each other, and speak directly. Conversations are more likely to occur over the morning paper or the evening dishes. Many times in the weeks that followed my Father’s death, I saw something I hope never to see again. I would be in conversation with my mother, and, when my own attention was drawn to whatever it was that I was doing, I would look up to see her simply staring into space. I found this sight more heart-rending than any of the tears that I had witnessed. Was she trying to take in the gravity of what had happened? But she had provided hospice care for my Father. Surely she could comprehend what had occurred! Was she trying to imagine, without success, a future without him? Either way, rousing her from her somber reveries seemed cruel to her, though watching them pained me greatly.
Each Good Friday we read from the Passion of Saint John. Palm Sundays, we rotate between the three synoptic gospels. This year, we read the Passion of St. Mark, the first to be composed.
This Passion is replete with raw emotions. Mark records Jesus saying, “My soul is sorrowful even to death” (14:34), a line Luke will remove. And only in this gospel do we have an incident so strange that scholars speculate that it must be the memory of an eye-witness, perhaps even Mark himself. Just after Jesus is apprehended, we hear, “Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked” (14:51). It’s certainly not the early Church at its best, but it is the Church candidly remembering the horror of that night.
In the Gospel of Saint Mark, a Christian community struggles with the same doleful task my Mother faced: trying to take it in, trying to make sense of it, trying to see what it meant for the future. Reading Mark attentively, one can see a Christian community — despite the resurrection — still wrestling with the notion that such a horrible death could be the very means of our salvation. It was such a scandal, a stumbling block, to their very understanding of God, the one who should be the source of all blessing.
Perhaps that why Mark structures his entire gospel around what we call the Messianic Secret. He begins his narrative with the words, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). The reader immediately knows the identify of Jesus, but in the story that follows, all of the human characters struggle with this question. The Father knows the Son; the demons know who he is, but the disciples remain perplexed. It’s not until the climax of the Gospel that a human being identifies Christ as the Son of God.
It’s the Roman centurion who does so, but not because he hears him preach or sees a miracle performed. Nor is this confession made in sight of the empty tomb. He proffers it because he sees the man die. Something in the death itself, something about the way he died, something we cannot hope to recapture with our imaginations, told this Roman, this Gentile outsider, that he had participated in the murder, not only of the Jewish Messiah but, of the Son of God himself. “When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’” (15:39).
Of course Saint Mark records, and confessed, the resurrection we celebrate in a week’s time, but Mark was convinced that even in its horror, something sublimely beautiful and compelling had happened at Calvary, something that should stir faith in the hardest of hearts. Even the Resurrected Christ still bears his wounds.
Don’t wish that you could have seen such a sight. Some specters sear the soul. Be grateful if you can pass through life without such a scape, but do give thanks that Mark prayerfully recorded such a scene so that your faith might be strong.
Rev. Terrance W. Klein