Saturday, April 15, 2017

Evening of Holy Saturday 2017

Now some women were observing this from a distance, among whom were Mary of Magdala, and Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome. (These women) had regularly followed and assisted him when he was in Galilee, along with many other women who had come up to Jerusalem in his company.
In the canonical gospels it is consistently the women who pay attention to the body of Jesus. They appear in the Gospel of Mark for the first time, here; but they are two of many, we are told. The irony is not lost on Matthew, who records the days before Jesus' death this way:

Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.
And yet to this day, we don't know who she was. Most memorials are like that, though. We see the statue but have no idea who the person was, or what they did. Or we hear the stories, yet misunderstand them or lose their meaning over time. The crucifixion stories are especially subjects of this problem.

And when it had already grown dark, since it was preparation day (the day of the Sabbath), Joseph of Arimethea, a respected council member, who was himself anticipating God's imperial rule, appeared on the scene, and dared to go to Pilate to request the body of Jesus. And Pilate was surprised that he had died so soon. He summoned the Roman officer and asked him whether he had been dead for long. And when he had been briefed by the Roman officer, he granted the body to Joseph. And he bought a shroud and took him down and wrapped him in the shroud, and placed him in a tomb that had been cut out of rock, and rolled a stone up against the opening of the tomb.
The writer of Mark's gospel is especially concerned to allay stories that Jesus of Nazareth was not dead, and so never rose from the dead. Skepticism abounded, then as now, to such a claim. Joseph of Arimethea is a wealthy follower of Jesus, another unknown person in Mark's gospel until this point. He appears in order to make the burial in a tomb of a Nazarene peasant executed for sedition, for threatening the Pax Romana, credible. Dom Crossan argues it is more likely such a criminal was removed from the crucifix when dead, and tossed in a shallow pit, to be devoured by dogs and carrion eaters. It is not, on the other hand, impossible that a person notable enough to leave such a following behind, would be notable enough in his lifetime to have rich followers who would wish to honor their teacher in death.

But Crossan's version helps us strip away from of the patina of the story after 2000 years, to see it as less an inevitabilty leading to Easter morning, and more as a finality ended before Holy Saturday.

Versions are important here. One version of the Easter story relates it to Ishtar and Sumeria, "[i]n the Sumerian tradition, in which much of the Bible is rooted."  The Gospels, however, are also rooted in Greek traditions, no surprise as they are written in Greek, not in a Semitic tongue like Aramaic or Hebrew. Stories of resurrection of heroes are not unknown in Greek literature; they reflect the special favor of the hero by the gods. Paul's account of the resurrection (which, aside from the eucharist, is all Paul ever tells about the life of Jesus of Nazareth) reflect this understanding of the resurrection. Is the story related to that of Dumuzi and Ishtar? Frankly, that one sounds more like Persephone than Jesus of Nazareth, especially as the "descent into hell" and the "harrowing of hell" are not mentioned in the gospels at all, and come much later in Christian doctrine. But again, versions and interpretations highlight the humanity of the stories. These are myths, perhaps, but "a myth traditionally is not just a false tale. Rather, it is a story that, at least at one point in time, had a very powerful spiritual resonance. The story of death and resurrection is one such story." Restoring the power to that story is ever the task of the body of believers.

And Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of Joses noted where he had been laid to rest.
It is a woman who anoints Jesus in Matthew, in Luke, and in John. And in all four stories, it is women who come to the tomb first. Women care for the dead as if they were living; or, more importantly, as if death really meant something.

2000 years later, it still does, and still should. We gather to worship and pray at the tomb of a crucified god.

Job 14:1-14

14:1 "A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble,

14:2 comes up like a flower and withers, flees like a shadow and does not last.

14:3 Do you fix your eyes on such a one? Do you bring me into judgment with you?

14:4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one can.

14:5 Since their days are determined, and the number of their months is known to you, and you have appointed the bounds that they cannot pass,

14:6 look away from them, and desist, that they may enjoy, like laborers, their days.

14:7 "For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease.

14:8 Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground,

14:9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant.

14:10 But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they?

14:11 As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up,

14:12 so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep.

14:13 Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!

14:14 If mortals die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come.

Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-24

3:1 I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God's wrath;

3:2 he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light;

3:3 against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long.

3:4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones;

3:5 he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation;

3:6 he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago.

3:7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me;

3:8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer;

3:9 he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked.

3:19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!

3:20 My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

3:21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

3:22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;

3:23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

3:24 "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."

Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16

31:1 In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.

31:2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.

31:3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name's sake lead me and guide me,

31:4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.

31:15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

31:16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.


  1. I remember wondering where Crossan found the source of his conclusion about what happened to the body of Jesus, it seemed oddly definite considering his skepticism about some things based on an absence of multiple sources attesting to them. It was like some video someone sent me a link to that made all kinds of conclusions about Roman crucifixion based on that one nail in the ankle bone of one crucified person whose bones made it into an ossuary, only without even that to go on.

    I find the Resurrection easier instead of harder to believe in it as I read more deeply about it.

  2. The nail in the bone thing came up in the PBS 'documentary' about the last days of Jesus I criticized earlier; to no effect, from what I could tell. It implied crucifixion was done by nailing the feet into the board through the ankles, but so? A factoid that never got anywhere.

    Crossan and other scholars sometimes seem to compete with each other to see who can be the most ruthlessly non-pious about the smallest details of stories. I found it shocking and disturbing in seminary, at first; then I thought about it, then I wondered why it mattered. Like the nail in the ankle, what does it signify about general assumptions? Nothing, ultimately. You accept the resurrection, or you reject it. It's an either/or. There really isn't an in-between where you could be talked into it or out of it because one more factoid tilts the balance.

    Oh, I know it happens to people, but being neither hot nor cold, they spat out their faith or swallowed too readily.

  3. It does seem to be fashionable among academic scholars to see which of them can believe the least or which one can downgrade Jesus and the other figures in the New Testament. I am grateful to Crossan because his Historical Jesus book was the beginning of the end of my agnostic self-indulgence and a lot of the background material into the physical environment and social setting in which Jesus lived and the earliest Jesus community arose. The letters on papyrus from Egypt in which the husband tells his wife to kill the baby she's carrying if it's a girl turned what was an abstract factoid about infanticide into something horrifically real, what part it played in my further thinking about the real consequences of believing people are objects instead of a the image of God has had a profound impact on me. I think it might be responsible for everything from my current attitude towards pornography to neuroscience and much more.

    I think Brueggemann's criticism of the historical-critical methods which he seems to make more in his later writing and lectures has a lot to be said for it.