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Mark 16 & Psalm 19

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Go.

Crucified.

Confused.

These are the words that stand out to us from Mark 16. It is a Thursday night in early spring and our first young people’s Bible study begins. Tired from work or studying we start to talk more after we’ve spent time meditating on the chapter.


The ending of Mark’s Gospel feels like a rabbinic story. It is left unfinished to force you to use your imagination. Our conversation turns to the setting of the narrative. It’s ‘very early on the first day of the week’ and sunrise has only just begun (v.2). In contrast to the sunny images Saloni remembers from her childhood picture Bible, we project a dawn-dark scene onto the women’s approach. The half-light gets even darker when they enter the tomb and are greeted by the white robed man (v.5). The tomb is a space the women have wanted to enter. Eventually they find themselves running away, ‘shaking and confused’ (v.8). Mark’s pace makes this passage feel like seconds in time. The sun must have still only been emerging.


What may have been their first words to break the silence? They don’t follow the messenger’s instruction to ‘tell’ the disciples (v.7). Instead, they ‘said nothing’ as they were stunned by the impossible event (v.8). With a bit of cut and pasting, the original question they asked seems glaringly relevant: “who will roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb?” (v.3).


They have the task of spreading the news of the resurrection. It is them who need to act in order to get the stone moving.


We have a break, get a drink and take it in turns to offer a word from Psalm 19.


Words.

Redeemer.

Commit.


Our focus falls on verses twelve and thirteen. Patience’s choice of ‘commit’ was linked to the psalmist’s tone of certainty and commitment to God (v.13). But in these verses the word connects to sin. ‘Also keep me from the sins I want to commit. May they not be my master’ (v.13). Comfortingly, this voice speaks of its weakness and how it could not escape sin but just strive for it to not gain control.


In six lines there are so many weighted words. Saloni describes how they naturally speak to one another; mistakes – faults – commit – blame – guilt – sin. A hidden story could be written from them alone. The psalmist is alert to this and humbly acknowledges that no one can truly know their own mistakes, ‘forgive my hidden faults’ (v.12). The unconscious element of our failings is made raw and any tone of arrogance in the psalmist’s voice is undercut.


The layers of the text take us time.


The language of the opening is riddle like.


‘The heavens tell about the glory of God.

The skies show that his hands created them.

Day after day they speak about it.

Night after night they make it known.

But they don’t speak or use words.

No sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into the whole earth.

Their words go out from one end of the world to the other’ (v.1-4).


The writer gets you to listen to a visual scene. You’re attentive to a word that isn’t a part of speech or language. Its’ the Word that spreads over the world and, like the sun, allows ‘everything’ to enjoy its warmth (v.6).


Patience draws our attention to how the psalmist’s ‘thoughts’ can teach us to be orientated towards God (v.14). It is within us to do right and with reflection we can organise our intentions to ‘please’ God. Funnily, we notice, it is the ‘thoughts of my heart’ that the psalmist makes reference to, not thoughts of the mind (v.14). A thinking heart breaks down the mind/body dichotomy that so often bewitches our interpretation of experience or whether we should be prioritising thought over feeling, analysis over action. Earlier in the Psalm we unearth an echo of this theme when it states: ‘The rules of the LORD are right. They give joy to our hearts. The commands of the LORD shine brightly. They give light to our minds’ (v.8). I can’t help but imagine a Jew putting on tefillin and attaching the law to their head. It is there to purify their thoughts but equally act as a reminder of the actions they must follow, things they must do, in order to find joy and the motivation to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19).


After some laughing about God’s presence being described as a groom leaving their room after their wedding night (v.5) we move into the final discussion. The passage on the law, and what it means to us as Christians, finishes our study (v.7-11). Ultimately, we’re unsure about it. The law is something which has been changed for us since the first council in Jerusalem. It has morphed. Our uncertainty is comforted by the fact the Psalm itself changes over time. It develops from the wordless revelation of the sky (v.1) to the ‘words of my mouth’ pleading for validation (v.14). This journey, Saloni suggests, is similar to how God’s law and spirit is received in our experience. There may be a genesis, a beginning, but the revelation it brings does not remain untouched. Human interpretation will mould it into laws and metaphors; into acknowledgements of sin and praises to a Rock and Redeemer. The meaning of the law, for us, is influenced by this perspective. Maybe we are still childish people waiting to become wise (v.7).

Patience leads us in prayer to finish. I embarrassingly try and collect the sheets in as though I’m still at school. And we plan to meet again in a week’s time.

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