Our Sunday morning Bible study over the past two months here in Kentucky has taken us on a quick run-through of Jesus’s story, as told in the book of Mark. The first written and the shortest of the four gospels, it is sometimes viewed as the “bare bones” version of the story, with relatively little interpretation or explanation and frequent use of the word, “immediately.” Scholars say that writers of the other gospels probably had read Mark and added either things that they knew but Mark didn’t, or things they thought might help clarify events that he reported.
One of the many messages of the gospel is that “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (or “is at hand”). We are told that we should think of this kingdom life not as something that happens later, when we get to heaven, but as something already alive in our world today (whether the day is in the year 30 or the year 2016). There is a lot of truth to that message.
But for those who find themselves in situations of suffering – as Jesus did, in the final section of each of the gospels – there is another message too. I was specially struck by Mark’s telling of the end of the story. In that gospel, there is no hint that, while Jesus was on the cross, his suffering was alleviated by a knowledge that God was at his side comforting him. The only words from the cross recorded by Mark were: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Luke and John added several other words spoken from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” “Truly I tell you [the two thieves], today you will be with me in Paradise.” To his mother and one of the disciples, “Woman, here is your son…Here is your mother.”) There are no such reassuring words in Mark’s gospel.
As we pondered in our discussion group our understanding of suffering – Jesus’s suffering on the cross, our own personal suffering, the wide-spread suffering in the world today – we found it difficult to provide a satisfying answer to the question of “why.” My own belief is that no such search for understanding makes any sense unless it is closely bound up with the resurrection. It is only if we believe that suffering – even suffering unto death – is not the end of the story, that there is more to our life and its meaning than we can express or even comprehend, that we can find the courage to hold fast to what we believe, even in the face of hardship, struggles and suffering.
In that context, Mark’s telling of the ending of the gospel story is significant, maybe even reassuring. So much of the suffering in our world today involves people who have little knowledge of or confidence in the resurrection. But that does not mean that they are excluded from experiencing it, from participating in it. The resurrection is not closed to us, to our family and friends, to people around the world who are suffering, even when we and they cry out in anguish, even in anger, “my God, if there is a God, why have you forsaken me?”
We say that “we are Easter People! Every morning is Easter morning from now on!” It is by faith that we affirm that the resurrection was true for Jesus, and is true for us as well. This is the clear foundation which enables us to live our lives not in fear but in hope, even in the face of suffering. If this is not one of the bedrock meanings of the affirmation that FAITH MATTERS, I don’t know what is.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Don Mead, Author