What can we learn about the presence of the fullness of the kingdom and the free running God at the empty tomb? Learn more in this extract from Shaun Lambert’s A Book of Sparks!
The watching we are called to in Mark brings us to the place of freedom. In that place the freedom of God can be completely at work within us. We are fully aware of what God is doing and we follow Him (Mark 1:17).
It is not a passive watching; it makes us still and still moving. I am intrigued with the sport known as free running. As I observe it I see that at its heart is a new type of seeing and awareness, an open attention which sees ordinary things in new ways: the top of a wall is not to keep us out but to run along; a stairwell is not for climbing but built for hurdling; a gap between two buildings is not to allow us to walk between them but to jump from one to the other. The watching we are called to is free watching – it sees new possibilities in ordinary things. It is the watching that enables us to see where the freedom of God is and move in it, even if it is into a place of persecution and suffering. That place of freedom is only to be found by paying full attention to the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
The women who follow Jesus watch the cross attentively from a distance (Mark 15:40). Then they draw close. Very close. At the tomb a young man speaks to them, the stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty. He has a message from Jesus for them. The last words of the gospel are:
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
This is often seen as a problematic ending. That somehow this is a failure on the part of the women as disciples. But consider this: they become aware of their incompleteness in the light of the completeness of the resurrection atmosphere at the tomb; they become aware of their possible completeness as they are told to journey on with the male disciples to Galilee where they will ‘see’ Jesus (Mark 16:7).
In the presence of the fullness of the kingdom at the empty tomb, they know their emptiness and taste the fullness that one day will be theirs. What possible response could there be except ekstasis (Mark 16:8), from which we get our word ecstasy?
At the great unveiling of the kingdom at the empty tomb, what possible response could there be but silence? The whisper of suffering in the beginning of Mark ended in a shout (Mark 15:37), which cry of completion paves the way for the silence after the resurrection.
In the Book of Revelation, at the opening of the seventh seal, there was ‘silence in heaven’ (8:1). Seven is the number of perfection, and the silence at the tomb suggests the women had experienced the perfection of the kingdom.
I wonder if you have reflected on what happiness is in Mark’s gospel. This is happiness – the coming alive of every aspect of our being, every particle within us dancing in the presence of the infinite, in the presence of God.
But there is more evidence than this. This experience at the tomb is one of true seeing which occurs many times in Mark’s gospel. Whenever the kingdom of God comes near in its numinous awe in Mark, the same group of words we see in Mark 16:8 recurs in various forms.
When Jesus raises the 12-year-old girl from the dead in Mark 5:41–42, the same word ekstasis is used. Literally the Greek says, ‘They were astonished immediately with a great astonishment.’ This response of awe, reverential fear and trembling occurs again and again. At one point in chapter 9 Jesus appears, and Mark writes, ‘As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him’ (verse 15). When the finite meets the infinite there is this response. When the two levels of reality – spiritual and material – are experienced simultaneously, there is this response. It’s as if the location of the crowd has changed and yet it hasn’t.
One of the paradoxical riddles in Mark is what Jesus says about inside and outside (Mark 4:11). At the empty tomb the women are inside the kingdom but are aware still of their outsideness – and yet they see their way to being fully inside. This is because they are in the right place, as close to Jesus as it is possible to be – at the place of the cross and the resurrection.
The perversion of our capacity to see, hear or know as God intends us to see, hear or know is the source of evil. The restoration of our capacity to see, hear or know as God intends is the beginning of our transformation. It is a lifelong journey and we must persevere to the end – finding the places where we can re-locate and re-orientate ourselves.
Mark tells us where these places are. The most challenging place is to put ourselves where suffering and persecution are, trusting the Holy Spirit to give us revelation in that moment (Mark 13:9–11). In these places the theology of Mark’s watchfulness is a theology of being before doing. It is a theology of presence. Find the presence of God and be present as well. But Jesus is not just a doer in Mark’s gospel; He shows us ‘being’ in all its fullness. He is a healing presence, a challenging presence, a mysterious presence – a presence full of God which leaves us in ecstasies, trembling in numinous awe.
We are called to be human in Mark’ s gospel, in our frailty and in our perseverance and in our attachment to one another. We are called to be servants in our hearts before we do service. We can throw a net over Mark’s gospel but we won’t catch Jesus that way; we need to follow Him, as the bushman follows the honey bird to honey. And if we follow Him, we end up at the cross.
Mark has already told us what the meaning of the cross is: ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). Jesus takes our place on the cross that we might take His place in the kingdom of His Father. Discipleship in Mark is entering into the freedom that we have been ransomed for, and leaving behind the slaveries we have been ransomed from. It requires watchfulness.
As we take up the place in the kingdom that Jesus has bought for us, we are given the mysterious authority of the kingdom (Mark 3:15). We are to learn this watchfulness in order to know how to live freely in the difficult present moment. We are assured of the future and of God’s promises to us (Mark 13:31). We don’t speculate about that future but we live in the light of it (Mark 13:32). Mark is also a book for this time in which we live, in all its uncertainty.
We need to breathe the atmosphere of Mark, which is made up of many little details. We need to read it and reread it as a whole, as well as pay attention to the detail. As we breathe it, we know we stand before God like parched earth in the presence of near rain – expectant, waiting.
We find the way in doing our daily tasks, while watching, watching for the free-running God, that we might allow His freedom to run in us. In that freedom we form a continuous working relationship with God that is prayerful; we correct distortions within ourselves and the world around us; we find our real selves; and we are part of the repairing new creation of the kingdom that has come near.
The mindFullness we can experience as Christians includes being filled with the fullness of the kingdom, the very presence of God. As Jesus says mysteriously ‘the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17:21). It is being set free from the cravings of the empty self, which is shaped in the patterns of this world. It is freedom to love courageously, because there is no courage in defensive anger – only fear. Courage comes out of love.
The God we worship is an aware God, omniscient as we say. Jesus was aware and attentive. He modelled that for us and, made in the image of God, we too have the capacity to be aware and attentive, and for that inner capacity to be transformed. Our hearts can be stretched with love to include our neighbours and our enemies, and in awareness we can gaze on them with the same love with which God gazes on them.
The ancient spiritual disciplines of Lectio Divina and the Jesus Prayer take us into the place of transformation where God’s grace can work.
As we engage with Mark’s gospel, the key insight we glean is that we see in a distorted and sinful way. That is why we need to be watchful. Becoming watchful is learning to see straight, and true and far, both the seen and the unseen that make up the reality that faces us. Mark wants us to be reality-focused.
Silence and solitude take us into the place where we can listen, hear and pay attention to the presence of God. In fact, at the end of Mark’s gospel, the women at the tomb were filled with silent awe (16:8). They were mindFull.