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Holy WeekThe Gospel of Saint Mark

Palm Sunday | Passion And Crucifixion Of Jesus Christ | From The Gospel Of Saint Mark

Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane
The Gospel of Saint Mark – Chapter 14

 

The Gospel of Saint Mark – Chapter 15

 

Procession | Jesus The Messiah Enters The Holy City On A Donkey

Jesus has come to Jerusalem before, but previously he has not wanted to be recognized as the Messiah. Now he accepts the acclaim of the crowd and presents himself triumphantly. He chooses a fine young donkey to carry him, an honest beast of burden, and in so doing he recalls the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, telling us that the Messiah will enter Jerusalem on a donkey:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

We may additionally recall the entry of Solomon, upon a mule, and the text of Deuteronomy 17: 16:

But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.

We share the joy of the people of Jerusalem as we greet God the Son, the Messiah, and experience the freedom he brings to us through his imminent sacrifice:

8 And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way.
9 And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord:
10 Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.

St Andrew of Crete teaches this to us:

‘So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ – “for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” – so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet.’

The Passion And Crucifixion Of Jesus Christ | The Conspiracy To Kill Jesus

The Passover lasted for one week, beginning with the Passover meal on the night of the 14th-15th of the Month of Nisan – according to the Jewish lunisolar calendar. The essential rite of the meal consisted in eating the paschal lamb, sacrificed in the Temple the day before. The meal would include an explanation by the head of the household, concerning God’s liberation of the Jewish people from Egypt and the passing over of the angel of God while he killed the Egyptian first born.

The Jewish religious authorities wish to kill Christ before the Passover, because during the festival there would be a vast number of pilgrims in Jerusalem, and Jesus is a popular man. The Roman authorities would too have been keenly aware of the mass of people gathered in Jerusalem. They seek to avoid his becoming a leader of such crowds of people, to have him dealt with as quietly as possible and avoid complications.

The Anointing Of Jesus At Bethany

The woman who comes to Jesus to anoint him is not named. Nevertheless, through the goodness that she has done to Jesus, we recall her today, just as Jesus promised we would. Her selfless gesture of giving – the ointment she pours over Jesus would represent a year’s wages – contrasts with the behaviour of Jesus’ disciples and particularly highlights the evil and covetousness of Judas, who will sell his Master and his God for a little silver, utterly betraying Jesus and the years he has spent with him.

There is a further significance to the anointing of Jesus. It anticipates the custom of anointing bodies prior to burial. The bodies of those who had been crucified, however, would not be treated with such dignity. We are taught through this moment to treat the holy humanity of Jesus with such care and respect and devotion as the woman now shows to him.

The Last Supper

Jesus has already arranged the room for his celebration of the Passover. He has not told his disciples where it will be, perhaps in order to thwart Judas’ treachery, and the intentions of the Sanhedrin, until the time when the Passover was already underway. It is remarkable that Jesus has secured such a well appointed room, without the knowledge of his disciples, when the demand for such in Jerusalem at this time would have been intense.

St Mark describes in more detail than the other Gospel writers the room Jesus has chosen in which to celebrate the Passover meal and so to institute the Eucharist. There is an old Christian tradition that the house was owned by Mary the mother of Mark, and that she also owned the Garden of Olives. Mark at this time would be very young.

This is a sacrificial meal. Indeed, it is to be the ultimate sacrificial meal, the definitive Passover. Jesus shows that he is fully aware of the treachery that has been plotted against him. He knows that Judas is to betray him. Nonetheless, he continues to do what is necessary to free us from sin.

This is of immense significance. While the Jewish people, including Jesus himself and all those present with him, celebrate the passing over in Egypt and the liberation of the people from Egypt so that they may journey to the promised land, Jesus prepares to offer himself as the sacrifice, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and he presents to his disciples, as a sacrifice, the Eucharist.

This is not empty symbolism or metaphor. This is the sacrifice in which we share for all time. This is the perfect sacrifice and the definitive Covenant. We are told in the Gospel of Mark, and we remember and celebrate these words for all time:

22 ¶ And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.
23 And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it.
24 And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.
25 Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.

The Mount Of Olives | The Garden Of Gethsemane

Jesus tells his disciples that they will fall away from him. He knows the time of failure they will go through – the failure to witness Christ, the failure to stand with confidence according to the truth of Christ and his teachings, the failure to believe in his resurrection. Peter protests that he will never abandon Jesus, that he will be the most faithful to Jesus of all his disciples; Jesus tells him he will do so this very night, three times before the cock crows twice.

Nonetheless, Jesus forgives his disciples in advance and he teaches them how to restore their faith again, after the terrible events of the next hours, which could so easily have shattered all faith. Christ’s mercy and understanding is infinite. He promises the disciples that he will see them again in Galilee. They could not have known at the time what Jesus meant by this, but Jesus prepares the way for the disciples to know better and to understand better in the days to follow. This new journey the disciples are to undertake will lead them to Pentecost, and then beyond, to bring Christ’s message to the whole world.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays. He is afraid, indeed he is terrified, to the point he sweats blood, and in being so shows us again that he has embraced our humanity. We can easily understand how this must be. Jesus is preparing not only to part for a time from his closest friends; he is also about to endure torture, humiliation and ignominious death. It is with full humanity that Jesus prays to his father. We hear in these Gospel verses:

32 And they came to a place which was named Gethsemane: and he saith to his disciples, Sit ye here, while I shall pray.
33 And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy;
34 And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.
35 And he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
36 And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.
37 And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour?
38 Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.
39 And again he went away, and prayed, and spake the same words.
40 And when he returned, he found them asleep again, (for their eyes were heavy,) neither wist they what to answer him.
41 And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.
42 Rise up, let us go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at hand.

It is an astonishing, profoundly moving moment. Jesus prays to his Father. Please let me not have to go through this. Nevertheless, not what I want, but what you want, what is necessary. Through prayer, Jesus reconciles himself to what is happening. He makes his peace with God the Father and the plan of God to set us free.

Jesus prays three times. Each time he returns to find that his disciples have fallen asleep. Knowing what he is to endure, he asks them: Could you not even stay awake and pray for one hour?

We are reminded of Jesus’ teaching, through the Sermon in the Temple and then culminating in the great Eschatological Discourse, of the need to watch. The arrival of the Kingdom of God in our lives is imminent. Christ’s second coming is imminent. We should be alert, through and through in our souls, every moment expecting the return of our King Jesus Christ. Our lives should be a mirror of all that we learn in the Bible of the truth of Jesus. And here, his disciples are sleeping while he prays.

They do not know what is happening. Jesus understands this. He looks on them with human sorrow and also care and pity. The third time, it doesn’t matter anymore. ‘Sleep on now, and take your rest.’ Jesus is passing away from his human life on earth. The time is come.

Jesus Betrayed With A Kiss

Judas is a coward and a traitor. He betrays our Lord with what should be a sign of great love. Judas damns himself utterly through his guile and ambition and avarice. The taking of Jesus is a perversion of justice and truth. Jesus accepts this. He sees that they have come out against him like a thief in the night, when they have known him openly in the Temple. The hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees becomes complete.

Still, the Jewish authorities cannot, according to the Law, condemn Jesus. The people who speak against him are lying. Their testimonies don’t add up. They contradict each other.

Jesus keeps his silence. He is true to the prophecy, that he will go meekly, like a lamb to the slaughter. We too are asked through these Bible verses to find our own silence, of faith in Jesus Christ, when the world rejects our Christianity, when devils assault and try to bring about our ruin, which would be through a failure of faith. We recall Isaiah 53: 7:

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

It is for Jesus to give himself up to what must happen, to allow this perversion of justice to continue to the necessary end. Jesus bears witness of himself:

Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?
62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

This is not a just trial. This is all the high priest needs to continue the theatricals and send Jesus to death. Jesus knows and accepts this, while he also now affirms the truth about himself for us all to keep ever after.

Jesus Before Pilate | The King Of The Jews | Crucify Him | The Crown Of Thorns

Pilate ought to be a man to bring justice, but he has his own career to look out for and the affairs of the Jews must have seemed obscure to him. The official of the occupying Roman power has no desire to spoil his record with the infighting of a Jewish ‘rabble’. He wonders at Jesus’ silence, and seeing the plot of the leaders of the Jews he seeks to appeal over their heads to the Jewish people, but finally it is of no great concern to him. If the Jewish people are prepared to call for Barabbas to be freed rather than Jesus, so much for justice.

It was customary to scourge people before they were crucified. The whip, or flagellum, would be strengthened with pieces of metal, which would cut through the skin and could fracture bone. Flogging alone could lead to death.

To the soldiers, Jesus is nothing. He is a man to mock and to have their fun with. We may recall the behaviour of some soldiers in occupied countries in our day, where there have been instances of degradation and mockery in which the humanity of those being abused has been denied.

Nonetheless, through Christ’s acceptance of this torture and humiliation, we see his perfect goodness all the more fully.

Jesus can barely walk now, and the soldiers are eager to finish the job. Simon is a chance passer-by, but his chance encounter with the cross of Jesus will touch him deeply. He is the first to take up the cross and follow Jesus. This is what we are called to do in our lives.

Now Jesus is crucified. His disciples are not with him, according to the Gospel of Mark. It is the women in the distance, looking on, who have remained true. The people who pass by mock him: Is this the King of the Jews!

Jesus refuses to save himself. He must endure and die. Still, the human God-Man cries out to his Father: ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ And then it is over. And now the pagan centurion sees what has happened and confesses: ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.’

It is for this pagan soldier and then Joseph of Arimathea, one of the Sanhedrin, to recognise that Jesus Christ is God the Son. Through this, the Bible teaches us that we may be free from sin when we recognise Jesus. The Roman soldier sees beyond the dictates of his culture and training. The Jewish elder sees through the accusations of blasphemy, while risking his social position in order to give Jesus a proper burial place. If these ‘enemies’ could see through all the divisions of their time to recognise the truth of Jesus, God the Son, how much more are we called upon now to welcome the knowledge of Jesus into our own lives. We are called through the Bible to the knowledge of God, to be free, to our salvation.

Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Have mercy upon us. Grant us peace.