6 April 2012

Mark 15:21-41

"And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom." (v. 38)


Mark's Gospel is the shortest one we have in the Bible, and the whole story of Jesus' passion, from Palm Sunday onwards, takes up nearly half the length of his book. It is the core and culmination of the story, and the crucifixion itself, which we reflect on today (Good Friday) is at the heart of the passion narrative.

After all the highly charged events of Holy Week - symbolic acts, hostile dialogue with his enemies, intimate moments with friends, agony and fear in the garden, betrayal and arrest under cover of darkness, a show trial where Jesus has stayed silent, and the crowd now howling for crucifixion - the moment of execution has arrived.

In Mark's account we sense the very bleak human experience that it was - Jesus' only words from the cross are a cry of abandonment by God (verse 34). Yet there are many clues that this was a salvific moment that changed human history for ever. There are several key names mentioned which suggest a living Christian community beyond this event. The person who carried Jesus cross was "the father of Alexander and Rufus" (v. 21). Presumably the Gospel's first readers knew those brothers as fellow Christians. The women who witnessed the whole event are named in verse 40: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses (also now Christians?) and Salome.

Mark shows the crucified Jesus being mocked ironically by his enemies, the passers by, and even the criminals dying beside him, and a challenge is thrown out: "Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe" (v. 32). It is as if the scandal of a crucified saviour - perhaps the most difficult part of Christian belief to stomach for the ancient world - is deliberately posed at the very moment of Jesus' death. And indeed he does not come down from the cross; he does not "save himself" (v. 30).

But at the precise moment of his death Mark narrates that the huge curtain in the temple protecting the inner sanctum (traditionally the holiest place of God's presence on earth) was torn in two "from top to bottom". A new and living access between God and humanity has been created.

To Ponder

How does this story affect you when you read it?

Bible notes author

Janet Morley

Janet Morley is currently the Commissioning Editor for HOLINESS, the journal of Wesley House, Cambridge ( She worked for ten years in the Connexional Team, with the training and development officers, and latterly, as Head of Christian Communication, Evangelism and Advocacy.