Gospel of Mark, Holy Saturday, Lent

The stone (Mark 15:42-47)

If you have ever lost someone you loved a lot, it’s not hard to imagine how the women felt on that Saturday, that Sabbath day. They woke up in the morning, if they slept at all, having to remember something they wished they did not know. Their teacher, their leader, their friend was dead. No doubt they woke up thinking about where Jesus’ body had been taken by Joseph of Arimathea.

He rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was buried. (Mark 15:46b-47, CEB)

I picture them picturing the stone, the entrance, the tomb, the path that would get them to it. I picture them planning anything at all that might feel useful, important, healing. I picture them feeling like any people do who have lost a treasured friend or family member to violence.

I picture them, and I think of the grandmother of Stephon Clark and the mother of his children, and the family of Alton Sterling, and the girlfriend of Philando Castile, and the Mothers of the Movement. Like the women who followed Jesus’ body to his tomb, they have lost dear ones to state violence.

So add to the grief a natural fear of what might come next for those who had been seen with him.

Imagine being grieved beyond measure and also afraid that the same forces responsible for executing the one you loved might be coming for you next. Imagine feeling that there is no safe place to be. Imagine wondering if your lament will draw unwanted attention. Imagine wondering if you can every trust anyone again. Imagine wishing the stone could seal you in, too.

“My God, my God,” he said, “Why have you forsaken me?” My God, my God, how can we trust you?   

Gospel of Mark, Lent

Presente (Mark 14:32-72)

At the rally before March For Our Lives here in Harrisburg, a Latinx college professor spoke of the tradition in which the dead are named aloud, and those who are witnesses respond, “Presente,” to indicate that although those we knew and loved are gone in body, they are not forgotten. The names of the students and teachers killed at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School were read, and after each one we did as he instructed and responded, “Present.”

He came and found them sleeping. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you stay alert for one hour? Stay alert and pray so that you won’t give in to temptation. The spirit is eager, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37-38, CEB)

Peter and the others were present in body, but their minds had gone to sleep.

There are times when emotions are heightened and life is fraught, and just going to sleep feels like the safest, even the sanest, thing to do. But Jesus is asking more from us. (It only gets harder for Peter; by dawn he will be denying Jesus altogether.)

In ministry, and especially if we serve a congregation, this day may be full of obligations, logistics, and technical difficulties. Are the slides ready for worship? Is the gluten-free communion bread in the house? Have we visited all the homebound folk who only wish they could attend a service in person, and will we be counting up the parents and children who have taken a vacation instead of spending Holy Week with their church family?

My hope for you all today, whatever your situation, is that you can find a little time to sit and watch and pray with Jesus. Be awake to what happened then, and feel it happening now. The world wants to rewrite him into a representative of the powers and principalities, but we know better. We know the powers and principalities were the ones who wanted him dead, the ones who killed him.

Find your moment. Say his name – Jesus! – and declare him “Presente.”

Ah, Holy Jesus, may I be awake to you and declare your presence. Amen.


This is both my Lenten blogging and a devotion for the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I also sometimes refer to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

Gospel of Mark, Lent

And they all said the same thing. (Mark 14:12-31)

One out of twelve betrayed him.

Eleven out of twelve denied him.

We may think of Peter as the great denier; after all, four out of four gospels give us a building narrative ending with the cock crow.

But I think there is a more universal truth contained in this parable about faithfulness.

In Mark 14, they have eaten dinner and had a conversation about betrayal, and now they have gone out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus said to them, “You will all falter in your faithfulness to me. It is written, I will hit the shepherd, and the sheep will go off in all directions. But after I’m raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else stumbles, I won’t.” But Jesus said to him, “I assure you that on this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But Peter insisted, “If I must die alongside you, I won’t deny you.” And they all said the same thing. (Mark 14:27-31, CEB)

But, but, but … they all said the same thing.

In Mark’s gospel, no one gets it right. They all disperse. Even the women who come to the tomb run away, frightened. We needed three more gospels to put the pieces back together, to give people a sense of hope, to tell a story that people want to believe and hold and share. No wonder the early church folk chose more than one!

And no wonder they kept this one.

Because we all say the same thing: we will never leave you, Jesus, we will die for you, Jesus, there is nothing we care about more, Jesus.

We are the eleven out of twelve, constantly. We can only hope to never be the one.

Jesus, for all the times I say I will be there, yet I am not, forgive me. 


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I also sometimes refer to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

Gospel of Mark, Lent

Crush It (Mark 14:1-11)

Nothing in Mark’s gospel happens in random order. He lays the story out carefully and uses exactly as many words as he wants and no more. Jesus has just warned his closest disciples to “Keep awake!” (Mark 13:37), when we learn that the religious leaders are actively seeking a way to arrest Jesus and kill him.

Next we find ourselves at dinner in Bethany, in the household of Simon (possibly a leper, certainly a sufferer from some skin disease, possibly already healed by Jesus), where dinner is being served. A woman came, or came in, with an alabaster container full of nard – a fragrant, expensive ointment – and now things get confusing for the casual Bible reader. Although this is the oldest recorded story of a woman anointing Jesus, the versions we are more likely to have heard, thanks to the Revised Common Lectionary are Luke’s and John’s. It’s understandable, I guess, given that there is a bit more narrative contained in the other two.

It’s also understandable because in this story the woman employs a different kind of agency, a disturbing agency. Whether she came into the house, or came into the room from another part of the house, she arrives with a goal, and she crushes it, both literally and figuratively.

Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease. During dinner, a woman came in with a vase made of alabaster and containing very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke open the vase and poured the perfume on his head. (Mark 14:3, CEB)

One of the alternate translations of the Greek word for broke is “crushed.” The alabaster vase or jar would have been round at the bottom, with a neck narrow enough to be broken in order to release the ointment. The woman came in ready to break it open; she came in ready to crush it on behalf of Jesus Christ.

Doing something that is actually awesome does not guarantee the acclamation of the gathered body, however, and “some” started to say she had wasted the ointment, that she should have sold it instead and given the money to the poor.

How many women who perform prophetic acts or speak prophetic words hear something just like this? Pastors, you know what I’m talking about, those times when it seems like people would prefer Clergy Barbie in the pulpit instead of the scholarly person of faith called to their community. If only that woman could have kept in her place, performing the kind of mild, charitable acts that offend no one. Instead, she made a scene, crushing the neck of the alabaster jar and filling the house with the expensive scent of perfume meant to cover the stench of death.

No wonder the men in the room looked for a way to criticize her. They don’t want to face what is coming. They want to dream of their own divine elevation. They want Jesus to be quiet already about dying. They have left him alone with what he knows. Only this woman steps forward to say, without words, “I understand. I am with you. I honor you.”

Jesus praised her, and according to Mark, he assumed that people would still be talking about her down through the years wherever the gospel was proclaimed. Instead, Luke and John moved her to the feet of Jesus. Luke made her an unreliable witness, a woman of the city, demonstrating her own need to be forgiven. John domesticated her, making her one of the sisters of Lazarus, part of a family scene. And the crafters of the Revised Common Lectionary left her out; in Mark’s version she appears only in the full reading of the Passion liturgy, and in Matthew’s nearly identical telling, the Passion liturgy begins just after her story.

She’s there for me, though, every Holy Week, and she? Keeps crushing it.

Holy One, this day, give me the courage to crush it, for Christ’s sake. Amen. 


In the interests of full disclosure: I’ve written about the anointing woman before, starting with an exegesis paper in seminary and more recently in this space two years ago. I’ve led three retreats over the past year about the stories of women who anoint Jesus, which are found in varying form in all four gospels. (And I would gladly do so again, so please consider this an advertisement of my availability to come and lead a retreat day or weekend for your congregation or clergy group.)


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I also sometimes refer to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

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Gospel of Mark, Lent

The Inner Circle (Mark 13)

As the end came near, Jesus still had the four who first formed his merry band close by his side.

As Jesus left the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings!” Jesus responded, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives across from the temple. Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? What sign will show that all these things are about to come to an end?” (Mark 13:1-4, CEB)

Jesus goes on to say a lot of things that preachers and scholars are still picking apart almost 2000 years later. But what interests me is who gets to ask the question.

How do you know who to trust with your innermost thoughts, your hard-earned wisdom, and your deepest concerns?

How do you screen for the people who make up your inner circle?

There are people I do not see for years at a time who I would not hesitate to trust because they have been with me from the beginning, whether I calculate that beginning as childhood or college or ministry. There’s something about knowing the same stories, and talking to the people who knew you “when,” and knowing you are known.

This makes me think Jesus believed or at least hoped there was a fragment of a chance that these four would be able to comprehend something he said, or at least remember it after he left them. Maybe something in their minds would switch on later, when they didn’t have him, but really needed his words.

Here’s what he told the inner circle that day.

  • Don’t fall for posers. (vv. 5-8)
  • Be brave, share the Good News, and rely on the Holy Spirit for your words when you are in trouble. (vv. 9-13)
  • Apocalyptic troubles are inevitable. When it’s really bad, the worst, even, I’ll be back. (vv. 14-27)
  • The bad stuff is going to happen in your generation. (vv. 28-31)
  • Keep your heads up, because even I don’t know when. (vv. 32-37)

Everything from 14 on is a problem for us, because on the one hand every generation seems to have these times, and on the other hand, as far as we know, Christ has not come back yet. I wonder what it was like to have heard these assurances, then lived through times of fear and persecution without getting the return they anticipated? Was this esoteric knowledge a help? Can we brush this whole chapter aside by deciding it was written after the destruction of the Temple, to reflect the horror of life in Jerusalem when decades of local infighting and Roman occupation gave way to blood running in the streets?

Because I can’t answer that, and because of some losses and difficulties I’ve had during Holy Weeks past, I tend to put this all in more personal terms. My world has been shaken, and to use an imperfect, even problematic metaphor, I’ve experienced times when the night felt dark, as if the stars had been snuffed out. I’ve looked for help when I felt like my beliefs were on trial. I’ve found my courage, and when I’ve trusted the Holy Spirit, I have indeed found words to say. Every life, in every time, will have these challenges; I have to hope that every life, in every time, will also have those moments when staying alert and awake offered a glimpse of Jesus.

Dear Jesus, I guess being part of the inner circle was only a little more helpful than being where I am now. I’m doing my best to stay awake and not fall for the posers, for your name’s sake. Amen. 


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I also sometimes refer to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

Gospel of Mark, Guns, Lent

Places of honor (Mark 12:38-44)

Today we went to the State Capitol to be part of March for Our Lives. There were some youth speakers, many of them white. There were a number of adult speakers, who provided some diversity – a local Black poet, a Muslim woman in a hijab who works with victims, a Latinx professor who called attention to the history of gun violence protests and the important work of young People of Color that have been ignored by many. One of our Senators sent a representative, and a teacher spoke, and the president of the teachers’ union. LGBTQ+ people were represented by a school board member (and maybe by some of the youth, but that was not made explicit). There were many teachers in the crowd, a smattering of pussy hats, and among those I saw, some Black Lives Matter t-shirts.

Today’s rally here in Pennsylvania didn’t include the governor or any congressmen. We had a mayor from a small town who made gun violence a cause years ago, standing alongside high school juniors and a pair of 8th grade girls who led us in chants. “What do we need?” Change. “When do we need it?” Now.

One pastor spoke, a colleague in the UCC. I thought about what I might have said in his place. What an opportunity! There weren’t a lot of overtly religious signs among the mostly-white crowd. I have the same sense of a lost narrative that I had during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2014. There is a counter-cultural message available in the gospel, and it is unknown to many. The church’s cultural affiliation with the halls of power and the places of honor tell a story of secular approval that cloaks the real story.

Standing outside the Capitol with no official role to play at the rally, it was easy to imagine Jesus and his disciples at the Temple, off to the side, watching people come and go. Just as I watched a woman pass daffodils out to rally participants, he watched the widow putting her two coins in the offering. I wondered who had ordered the flowers, and how many they got, and what kind of sacrifice it might have been to order many dozens, or whether someone donated the flowers on their slender stalks. Jesus offered a word of warning to those who would take the generous gift of the widow.

This week a story appeared in a major paper about the leader of a network of churches who has been accused of misconduct. It struck me as I read a bit about him that one of the dangers for the church and church leaders when we over-identify with the culture is that our standards can become skewed. Are we forming disciples, or are we attracting numbers? Do we identify with Jesus’ servant-leadership, or do we become enamored of our own press? Can we stand to the side, or will we wrangle for the places of honor?

Lord, help me to know my right place. Amen.

A portion of the crowd at the March for Our Lives, via Prisma

I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I also sometimes refer to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.

Gospel of Mark, Lent, Love

YOU ARE SERIOUSLY MISTAKEN (Mark 12:18-37)

A colleague I admire offers her friends a space to express themselves unreservedly each week, hosting CAPS LOCK THURSDAY on her Facebook timeline. It may be only Tuesday of Holy Week in today’s reading, but it’s definitely CAPS LOCK material. We start with the Sadducees posing a word problem for Jesus about how many brothers a woman needs to marry in order to get into heaven – well, no, whose wife she will be in the general resurrection? It’s a trick question, because they don’t believe in a resurrection anyway.

Jesus said to them, “Isn’t this the reason you are wrong, because you don’t know either the scriptures or God’s power? When people rise from the dead, they won’t marry nor will they be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like God’s angels. As for the resurrection from the dead, haven’t you read in the scroll from Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God said to Moses, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He isn’t the God of the dead but of the living. You are seriously mistaken.” (Mark 12:24-27, CEB)

YOU ARE SERIOUSLY MISTAKEN.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about people who also describe themselves as Christian yet do not think about important aspects of Christian theology as I do. I’m not speaking here of practice, liturgical and otherwise. I helped create an ecumenical organization that stands on what feels true to me: all our ways of worship are good and pleasing to God, and we can understand things differently and still hold to some basics about Jesus that bind us together.

But today I have had to consider whether there is any part of the Christian theology and homeschooling curriculum that formed the Austin bomber to which I can bind myself. I’ve struggled with the way churches with an evangelical or fundamentalist bent form disciples, particularly when they define themselves by excluding and condemning people I feel pretty sure Jesus would embrace.

Jesus offered that embrace to the sick, the weary, the broken, and the outcasts. I’ve heard people minimize his openness by noting how often he said, “Go, and sin no more,” but I want to note that when he did throw down, it was most often with people of privilege, specifically men carrying religious authority. On CAPS LOCK Tuesday, Jesus deconstructs all kinds of mistaken thinking and sends the religious leaders back to the book. Don’t you know the stories? Have you not read and studied?

YOU ARE SERIOUSLY MISTAKEN!

Sometimes I wish we could have a day like that again, a day when Christ himself comes with his angels and tells the people who are in power how off-base they are. It may be that I would turn out to be wrong, that Jesus would send me back to study harder and think more deeply and reach a better understanding. But the very next thing that happens inclines me to think that even if I am missing some of the particulars, I have a firm foundation. A legal expert comes and questions him. What is the greatest commandment? I love that Mark puts the answer in Jesus’ mouth (in other gospels, Jesus asks the question): You must love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

This is the foundation of my gospel understanding. If I’m seriously mistaken, at least I’m going to err on the side of love.

When I am seriously mistaken, Lord, forgive me. Let me start again to love you with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. Amen. 


I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I also sometimes refer to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.

You can find the full schedule here, including links to earlier posts.