Forming Faith Blog

In the Light of the… (Mark 11, 15, 16)

From a human perspective, Jesus’ significance runs backward. It is in the light of the empty tomb that we see the meaning of the events of Holy Week.

Light shining through a cross cut into paper.
Four Years Ago

As I was preparing to write this reflection, I looked back at my post from the last time we encountered these readings from Mark. I had been hoping to edit and re-post it so I can get on to my overwhelming to-do list, but… it’s from April 2020. As you might recall (and cannot forget), this was when we as a church, country, and world were scrambling to figure out how to live, work, and worship in a world overturned by a pandemic. And that reality made up a lot of my previous post, so no such luck for me to skip writing. But I did like the core of what I reflected on, so you can consider this post as “inspired by” that post.


While the stories of Holy Week and Easter are not as familiar in popular culture as the Christmas story, they are the foundation and bedrock of our faith. The significance of these events—the substance of the gospel—begins at the end. It is the resurrection of a first-century Jewish man that brings his person, life, and work into the spotlight and the world stage.

And this is not just a resuscitation—bringing someone back to life. That’s remarkable now and was miraculous then, but it can and does happen. But with Jesus, he was fully, completely dead. And then he did not so much come back from death but passed through death, transformed into a new type of life. Jesus was transformed by his death and resurrection. This was—and is—world-changing.

In the Light of the Empty Tomb…

However, it is not the resurrection that makes Jesus significant. Instead, it is proof that he is significant. But, from our perspective, that is where it begins. It is through the light of the resurrection that we see what has been going on with this man the entire time. And Jesus didn’t just happen to die in the right place at the right time, knowing the right people, like his friend Lazarus did. This was always part of the plan, always a consequence of who Jesus is.

It is important to realize that the light of the resurrection is not only full of life and hope, but it is also frightening. It certainly was to the women who discovered that the tomb was empty and encountered a young man in white (whom Matthew calls an angel) with a strange message.

However, it is hard for me to imagine this as scary news. I have heard it countless times and said it often enough myself. And with our (my) steady diet of science fiction and fantasy, we might have responded differently, even if we didn’t have the whole story as we do now. But this news was life-changing and worldview-shattering for these women, which hit them in a time of enormous grief.

…We See the Cross

It is because of Jesus’ resurrection that we see his crucifixion in a new light. No longer is Jesus just one in the long line of people (before and after) who were executed for opposing Roman oppression. It is in the light of the empty tomb that we can see that Jesus was a unique person, the type of Messiah that no one saw coming. And because he was definitively God’s promised Messiah, his death had to mean something. And over time, we came to understand that it meant everything.

…We See the Towel and Basin

It is in the light of the empty tomb and cross that we see that Jesus’ lordship is universal and the radical significance of his service to his disciples with water, towel, and basin. It was scandalous to think of a renowned rabbi doing the dirty work of a servant or slave by washing the disciples’ stinking feet. How much more so when we realize that this was God-in-the-flesh, the one who would die for the world, the one whom death could not destroy.

It is in the water, towel, and basin that we see what type of Lord we follow and what type of God we worship: a Lord and God who sees serving others as the highest good.

…We See the Bread and Wine

It is in the light of the empty tomb, cross, and basin that we see the Last Supper as the institution of a holy ritual. A ritual where we receive the love of Jesus in physical, sensory form. Without the significance of his death and resurrection, his promise of body and blood and a new covenant would be the strange ramblings of a strange rabbi. And without the basin and his call to serve others, we wouldn’t know that this gift of bread and wine, body and blood wasn’t for ourselves, but to empower us to transform the world one action at a time.

…We See the Cloaks and Palms

It is in the light of the empty tomb, cross, basin, and supper that we see the triumphal entry as truly triumph. The people, even Jesus’ closest disciples, likely expected great things from their Messiah, entering the Holy City to become victorious. Jesus did indeed enter the Holy City and become victorious, just not anywhere close to how the people expected him to. The events that took place after the triumphal entry redefined what triumph even meant: humble service, self-sacrifice, and God’s triumph of life over death.

Faith Formation Connections

From Palm Sunday to Easter, faith formation in the church often narrows to special worship services and unique ways to worship. This is not a bad thing, as I hold corporate worship to be the most basic faith formation your church likely does. And it is not revolutionary to suggest that you do something special, something that involves movement and action, and engages the senses and emotions. But I encourage you to make sure that you are taking the time to explain what you are doing and why you are doing it.

As you do, point to the resurrection. It is the resurrection that informs our understanding of Jesus’ life, work, birth, and all that we remember during Holy Week. We are a resurrection people.

In God’s unending love,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download our weekly devotional resource (bulletin inserts) for Holy Week and the Week after Easter from our Living the Word: Sharing God’s Story @ Home (NL) product. Give your households a concrete resource for daily devotions during these two important weeks!

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