Burning Bushes

25 April 2007 Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Easter
Mark 16, 15-20 Feast of St. Mark, the Apostle

This introduction might shock you a little. The Gospel of Mark ends in Mark 16, 8. Mark might not have lived to end his Gospel, and somebody else wrote the remaining verses: from verse 9-20. However, the passage is still worth our attention for these reasons. First, it gives us the duties of the Church. Second, it mentions the Ascension of Jesus. And finally, it tells us that the disciples went to the Upper Room — the Cenacle — to pray and to wait for the Spirit.

First, this passage tells us four things about our duties. We are expected to preach the story of Jesus. We are expected to heal people — body and soul. We have been given power. What kind of power? The Gospel verse cannot be interpreted literally: “that we can hold venomous snakes and drink poison and not harmed.” We know what will happen if we try. The passage should not be interpreted literally. It means that we have the power to overcome difficulties in life. We are an Easter people thus, we are those that never say die. There is always hope. There is always an alternative. And finally, it tells us that Jesus is the source and our companion when we do these tasks.

Second, this passage tells us of the Ascension: “He was taken up to heaven.” Luke adds two men asking the disciples why they were standing looking at sky. This is a good angle. If one is asked to perform the above duties, it will require not just the stamina for it, but must be conscious about where he or she stands.

Before God called Moses, the ground he stood on were like ordinary grazing land, until he saw the burning bush and was asked to remove his sandals because the ground he stood on was sacred. Very often, we need to look at the ground we stand because we often forget its holiness. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:

Earth’s crammed with heaven

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries,

And daub their natural faces unaware…


Every ordinary ‘bush’ is a burning bush for Elizabeth Browning. All of life’s bushes are afire with God, but only those with a spiritual depth can see the flames. While others just ‘pick blackberries’. They have no sense of the sacred. Gerald Manley Hopkins SJ said that the world is charged with the grandeur of God. Elizabeth Browning just said that the earth is crammed with heaven. Without the eyes to see the burning bush or that the world is charged with God’s grandeur means that we must first be ablazed in order to do our duties as a Church. Our hearts must be ablaze with fire: that our personhood exudes this inspiration and energy.

Finally, we know how the disciples see the fire in all ordinary bushes: They went to pray in the Upper Room or the Cenacle. Prayer here is not a structure, or an obligation, or a rule or a technique or a schedule. Prayer for the disciples is a loving relationship with God, full and ablaze with love!

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