March 30, 2024

an unlikely ending

There was no likelier ending to the story than Jesus’ death. For one thing, he predicted it repeatedly.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. Mark 8:31-32

For another, religious and political dissidents were not treated generously in the Roman empire. And lastly, death was—and is—the commonly accepted ending of every human story. Jesus’ death was awful and brutal. It was a sentence unfairly carried out. To those who loved him, Jesus’ death was heartbreaking; to those who had hoped he would be their king, it was a disappointment almost too much to bear.

But it probably wasn’t a surprise.

It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him…. Mark 14:1

 The only person who seemed surprised is Pilate, the Roman governor who personally delivered Jesus to be crucified.

Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned … that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. Mark 15:43-45

Even in Jesus’ death, a man searching for the kingdom of God—a man who has not given up—is drawn to him, and it is this Joseph who oversees Jesus’ burial in a tomb. In doing so, Joseph of Arimathea unknowingly sets the stage for the unlikeliest ending in history.

On the first day of the new week, a group of women go to the tomb to continue the rituals of anointing Jesus’ body, to continue to say goodbye and to come to peace with death. “They were alarmed,” scripture reports, to encounter an empty tomb and an angel, who encourages them to “not be alarmed.”

“You seek Jesus of Nazareth,” the angel reassures them. “He has risen; he isn’t here.” The angel asks the women to convey this message to the disciples, noting that it is all just as Jesus had told them. The fear and disbelief with which Jesus’ companions respond to hearing of his resurrection and even to seeing him tell us how unprepared they were for this ending—or for the fact that it wasn’t an ending at all.

In the unlikely kingdom of God, death isn’t the end. People are still reacting to the news of Jesus’ resurrection with fear or disbelief. In the tradition of his earliest disciples, forgiven for their unbelief and commissioned by Jesus at the end of the book of Mark, we have good news for our world: that we are loved even in failure; that we are forgiven no matter what we have done; and that death is not the end of our stories—or of the stories of the kingdom of God. Once you’ve met Jesus, nothing is more likely.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Today's Prayer: Lord, prepare my heart for what you want to show me or teach me this Easter. Help me to be present for the significance of this day. Help me to live my life out of a belief in your unlikely kingdom.

Focus on prayer: Each meditation gives you a starting point for a prayer. Begin with the prompt above, and let your words to God continue and become your own.

Meditation by Meghan Blosser

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