Jesus’ closest followers locked themselves in a room. The women came back from his execution and told them what had happened. He had lingered for six hours on the cross, shorter than most and at his end, he had cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” They all knew how that song went on. “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”
Such an end to a divine year, when the reign of God seemed close, the kingdom of justice and peace about to arrive. “Repent” was his call, “do not be judged unworthy”. Demons expelled, the sick healed, the poor celebrated, the outcast accepted, all over Galilee. Crowds of followers, crowds gathering everywhere they went, overflowing Jewish temples to hear him speak of the kingdom, to gain relief from their ailments. At first they too just watched in awe and then he sent them out to preach and expel and heal in his name. But still many would not listen.
He led them to Jerusalem. There, until its later destruction, Jews gathered once a year at their temple to sacrifice blemish-less lambs to their god. To commemorate passover when their ancestors, slaves then, spread the blood of lambs on their doors, so that God would pass their homes, spare their first born sons, as he brought death to the children of their masters.
He prayed much of the time, walking ahead of them, alone, and no one disturbed him. When he spoke, he now predicted his own demise as the suffering servant, the prophesied sacrificial lamb for the sins of his fellows. Through this sacrifice, the kingdom would come. He also predicted that they would all fall away. “As it is written”, he said, “‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’” They denied it. They promised to remain loyal.
They chose to dwell on the arrival of the kingdom. For though he avoided the name, they now believed him to be the “Christ”, the predicted, anointed one of God, the king for the kingdom who would judge all mankind and they would judge with him, beside him on thrones of their own. They argued amongst themselves over who should sit nearest him, who was the greatest of them.
The temple elders looked down on them. Part of the country mob that swelled the city every passover, good only for filling the temple’s coffers. But his popularity threatened them. And then they heard he was threatening the temple itself and that he was claiming to be the Christ so they arrested him. He went quietly and stayed quiet as they found him guilty of the worst impiety and as the Romans, to keep the peace, crucified him.
He was sacrificed but nothing happened. The heavens stayed silent. So they hid. Would the temple men come for them now?
He had taught them how to pray. Quietly, in private, without show, for you need only be seen by God. He gave them a few simple words to say. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
But what now of the kingdom, of the people he called out, of his church? He had left no instructions.
Much of this is Mark’s account, the earliest and starkest. How did the Church survive this moment? Few of them were left and they were abandoned.
Mark ends with the women finding Jesus’ tomb empty three days later. The other gospels then have him appear to these frightened men, to instruct them.
What does appear mean? Could you photograph a risen Jesus? Was there really a tomb, found empty? No matter what, the Church’s survival of this, her first hurdle, is and will always be truly a mystery.