First Mennonite Church
April 14, 2019
Taking the Body of Jesus
Text: Mark 14:22-72
Today we are continuing our journey with Jesus as he goes to Golgotha and then to his rising up on the third day. Easter Sunday is this coming Sunday. (But let us be mindful that every Sunday is the Lord’s Day; thus, every Sunday we celebrate his resurrection) But today as we follow Jesus on his passion journey, we begin by joining the disciples in celebrating the Last Supper. Today, we will also celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
As we once again continue with our general theme for this season, why did Jesus have to die, we needed to do an extensive reading. Today’s Gospel reading is about Jesus’ darkest hour. Although the Gospel of Mark gives us various clues as to why Jesus died, it leaves the question very much for to us to answer ourselves. But in typical Mark’s narrative style, he invites us to become players or participants in his story. Therefore, beginning with the Last Supper, we are invited to sit around the table with the disciples. We listen to a compulsive Peter. We watch the sleeping and tired companions of Jesus as he prays. We feel the fear of the deserting 11. And we are shocked to see Judas betray the Lord with a kiss.
In the first scene, Jesus ends the Passover meal with something that might have seemed to his disciples as clear signs of failure and frailty on the part of their Master. He is going to die. He, after all, is human as well, despite the 17 times he calls himself the “Son of Man” or “the Son of the Most High God,” or the “Holy One of God,” as the demons identify him. The somber manner in which Jesus eats the Passover and the way he closes the feast truly bring to light something imminent and seriously troubling for him and for those who are following him. So, fear and maybe even frustration begin to overcome the disciples. After the Last Supper, everything begins to unfold rapidly.
Mark’s Gospel does not present the death of Jesus simply as a substitutionary death as often times it is said to be. That is, Jesus died on behalf of us. Jesus death is neither presented simply as expiatory, in the sense that God was appeased from his wrath and anger through the death of is holy son who had human form. Mark, contrary to every simple explanation about the death of Jesus, takes time to present every facet about the causes and meaning of Jesus’ death. But more importantly, Mark subtly invites us to see ourselves in the characters during the passion of Jesus.
Therefore, while eating the Last Supper, Jesus announces that one of the 12 will betray him. The bewildered disciples could not begin to comprehend such terrible prospect. They all begin to earnestly ask the Lord, “Surely not I, Lord? Surely not I, Lord?” Who of his beloved circle would ever want to be his Lord’s traitor? Impossible idea, they all thought. Mark makes us feel with the disciples the anguish of being the actor of such a hideous act of betrayal. I, too, would have asked, “Surely not I, Lord?” You surely would have said the same. Therefore, in part Jesus died because one of his very own betrayed him. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. What a travesty to use an expression of love and affection to betray someone who was pure love. But, Judas did.
After Jesus and his twelve sang the hymn, we are told, Jesus addressed his disciples; “You all will become deserter. You all will abandon me.” In response to this and out of pure zeal for his Master, Peter says, “Even though all become deserters, I will not. Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” But when Peter’s feet were put in the fire and when he was accused of being associated with Jesus, who had been condemned, Peter not only denied Jesus three times, but he began to curse and to swear that he did not know the man. Jesus died because his very close friends abandoned and denied him. But not only his human friends forsook him; even heaven seemed to look the other way as he died on the cross. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
As Jesus goes to pray in Gethsemane, his praying companions, burdened with grief and fear are overtaken by sleepiness. Instead of supporting their Master in his darkest hour, they slumber and succumb to the needs of their flesh. Jesus goes to pray and comes three times only to find them sleeping again. At last, he clarifies to them their dilemma: “The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.” But it is not only the disciple who are struggling with the flesh. Jesus was too. He was waging battle with his own flesh, but he prays. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
And again, Jesus died because he surrendered to the will of the Father. Jesus died, because he resisted the desires of the flesh and opted to do the will of God.
We should ask ourselves, is it possible for us to deny our Lord and Savior? Would we offer to die, if necessary, for his sake? Or will we deny him in order to save our skin? Will we desert him if we find ourselves in hot water because of him? Would we dare to subject our flesh to the spirit? Or would we succumb to the dictates of our flesh? Would we sleep when we should be praying? It could be that our denying Jesus might not be verbally as Peter did. We can deny knowing Jesus by failing to reflect his love to the unloved or unlovable. We can deny knowing Jesus by seeking companionship with those who are enemies of Christ, as Peter did. He sought to warm himself by the fire of those who were mocking and spitting Jesus on the face.
During those hours of great trial for Jesus, Peter and his friends might have forgotten something. They had eaten and drunk something, which Jesus called his body and his blood. Their lives had been bound together with Jesus’. They were then destined to share his fate. They were bound by Jesus’ love that no matter what happened, they would be restored and reunited with him once again. Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.’
But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (v. 27, 28)
By eating the bread and taking the cup, the disciples were fed by God. They were nourished to continue the work of Jesus after he had gone. In some symbolic way or in some mysterious fashion, their participation in the Last Supper became the starting point of their becoming the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. They were transformed into spokespersons of the message of hope and salvation in their world and beyond. They were becoming, in the way of service, bread that would give life to others and blood that would be spilled for the sake of the gospel. They gave themselves to the service of the gospel in remembrance of their Lord.
When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are reminded of one of the greatest reason Jesus died on the cross. This is what he said to his disciples and to us every time we celebrate Communion: Of the bread Jesus said, “Take it; this is my body given for you.” And about the cup, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:19, 20). In other words, Jesus died because he gave his life so that we may live.
There is a song in Spanish, which in part goes:
In my dream I saw you being stricken.
And I ran to defend you.
Assuming the executioners were others
But when l looked at their faces,
Lord, I saw my face.
Yes, every time we celebrate Communion, we are reminded that Jesus gave his life for us. Our participation of it, binds us to him. Thus we share not only his fate, but also his glory. Amen!