There are three scenes in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 14:1-16:8) that give me an odd sort of comfort. The first scene takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus has gone to pray. We are not told this explicitly, but one gets the sense that Jesus just needed to get away from it all, to be alone, to pray to God before facing what he was about to face. Jesus is honest with his disciplines, explaining to them that his heart is full of sorrow. Addressing God as Abba, a term of familiarity that indicates that Jesus thought of God as Father, Jesus prays, “Take this cup from me. But let it be according to your will, not mine.” Jesus first asks to be spared, but then in the next breath reaffirms his trust in God, indicating his willingness to follow God’s will and not his own.
This is a Jesus that I can relate to; this is a Jesus I know is there. At the times in my life when I have felt deep sorrow, the sort of sorrow that feels as if it will swallow you whole, I have felt the irresistible urge to be in contact with the ground. Prostrate on the floor, I have cried and prayed, prayed and cried, imagining that Jesus, too, once knelt on the ground in Gethsemane, in touch with the dust out of which human beings are formed and into which they will return. Of course, this does not take away the sorrow, but it helps somehow to know that Jesus felt something similar. It helps somehow to know that even for Jesus it was not always easy to follow God’s will. This Jesus gives me permission to ask God if things might be another way, all the while encouraging me to trust in God.
The second scene takes place on the cross. As people are gambling for his garments and taunting him to save himself, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Scripture scholars have spent much ink debating about this cry of Jesus on the cross. From my perspective, it is an authentic cry of anguish. Yes, we know that the end of the story is resurrection, but in that moment, Jesus felt abandoned, alone, angry. And in expressing those emotions, in yelling out to God, Jesus gives us permission to do the same. We are allowed to be angry with God, to yell at God when we do not understand. It is okay because God is God, and God can take it. And again, while this does not take away our anguish, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus can commiserate with us because he experienced these very same human emotions. This Jesus is not one who shies away from the hard emotions in life. This is a Jesus who walks with us through the valleys of death.
The third scene is the dramatic ending to Mark’s Gospel. While it was filled in by a later writer, we now know that the original version of Mark’s Gospel ended with the women fleeing the tomb, telling no one about Jesus’ resurrection because they were afraid. Talk about leaving an audience hanging! Again, we now know that this is not the end of the story. The women eventually did gather the courage to speak of what they had seen in the empty tomb, or otherwise we might not know of Jesus’ resurrection. But Mark’s Gospel as it was originally written ends with the women silenced by their fear, keeping to themselves, not knowing what to do next. In those crossroads moments of life, when I am not sure what I will do next, and also in the moments of life when doing what I know I should do just seems too hard, I feel a kinship with those women. It helps somehow to know that even the women who “saw” the resurrection for themselves struggled with faith. It helps somehow to know that fear and trembling are appropriate and even expected responses to the call of Jesus to go out and spread the good news.
These three scenes could be seen as dark and depressing. Maybe they are dark and depressing for someone who has never felt deep sorrow, deep anguish, deep doubt, or deep fear. But I have felt all these things, and knowing that Jesus felt them and that some of his closest followers felt them makes me feel less alone on my journey of faith. And perhaps most importantly, these three scenes remind me that it is okay to be human because that is what we are. I do not have to be perfect, and I am not expected to happily and unquestioningly follow God’s will. The journey of faith does not only encompass mountain top moments but also valleys of despair and doubt. And Jesus is not only with us looking out at the amazing vistas; he is with us most especially when we cannot see our way forward.’Photo courtesy of firstname.lastname@example.org via Creative Commons License