Preached at Evensong by Kate Bowers for the Feast of St Mark the Evangelist 24th April 2016.
Words from our first lesson this evening.
Tomorrow is the feast day of St Mark. As a child I went to St Mark’s Junior School. We didn’t have a school hall of our own so assemblies were held in the church hall. Over the stage in that hall was a picture of a winged lion –the symbol of St Mark. I think it particularly appealed to me because of my love of the Narnia Stories and Aslan. If you are lucky enough to have visited Venice you have probably seen the ancient bronze winged lion sculpture in St Mark’s square.
The lion is one of the four living creatures described in the book of Revelation and chosen as symbols of the four evangelists. The lion symbolizes the power of the Evangelist’s word carried swiftly through the strength of its wings.
St Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four gospels. In the past this meant it was perhaps under-rated because it included less detail; but it is in part the brevity that gives this gospel its real punch!
When I was doing the Lay Ministry training one of my assignments was to design a cover for Mark’s Gospel. I tried to design a cover showing Jesus as the ‘Superhero’ striding towards the cross. Unfortunately my artistic talents let me down and the assessor wrote a comment indicating that he could not work out what the picture was meant to show! But the feel of this Gospel is of Jesus having a clear purpose that would bring him to the cross.
While preparing this sermon I returned to the book – Meeting God in Mark by Rowan Williams. It was a book we used in study groups in the parish a year or two ago. Who then was Mark? Early tradition suggests that he was an associate of St Peter, but Mark was a common name and so whether that is true is hard to ascertain on present evidence. It does appear that this tradition helped the acceptance of this gospel in gaining credence as an authentic account of Jesus’ life and ministry.
Perhaps more important is why Mark wrote this gospel? After all it is not about him but about the one he has found a relationship with.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God
The opening words of the Mark’s Gospel! Good news, gospel, the Greek word euangelion Rowan Williams tells us is literally ‘a bit of good news’. He compares it with a press release from Buckingham Palace or Downing Street – an announcement of good news that will change something! We could compare it to the announcement made in church this morning of the appointment of a new Rector – this is good news and it is good news that will bring about change!
Mark presents Jesus immediately – centre stage. No introduction, no family history or birth story. Here he is – the anointed one, the son of God.
He is writing the gospel for Christian communities who were living with and facing fear and persecution. The Jesus that Mark wants to show them is the incarnate God present in the world as they know it, entering into the pain and suffering of the world, taking it to himself and transforming it.
In this very first chapter of Mark’s Gospel it feels as though Jesus has come crashing into the world – ‘the heavens torn apart’; the spirit driving Jesus into the wilderness but
at the same time those present at Jesus’ baptism see an ordinary man go down into the waters then hear God’s words of love, ‘You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am
well pleased.’ This is the Good News Jesus brings to each of us, this is what will bring about change – through Jesus we are each brought into that same loving relationship with
God. That is the euangelion Mark proclaims!
Euangelion is obviously the route from which our words evangelist, evangelise, and evangelical come. Because such words have become the domain of a particular wing of the church we sometimes shy away from them or connect evangelism with aggressive attempts to convert people but we are all called to share the good news that others have shared with us. In fact, we are all evangelicals.
So, how do we share the Good News?
I have heard some very good sermons over the years but I think that it has been conversations with other Christians that have had most impact on me. My own mother started going to church because a neighbour talked about her faith and invited my mother to go to church with her.
Most of us are reticent about sharing our faith with others. It can feel uncomfortable and too personal. Sometimes we feel we can’t articulate what we believe and that others may not understand or will laugh at us. One of the enormous privileges of sharing in confirmation preparation the last few years has been hearing people talk about their own faith journeys. We don’t need to have all the answers and other people’s questions may evoke our own questions – a great way to grow our own faith. Why not start sharing your faith by talking about it with friends from church or with your family?
The German theologian Jurgan Moltman read St Mark’s Gospel when he was a prisoner of war in Scotland in 1945. He and his fellow prisoners had come to the terrible realisation of what the regime they had been fighting for had been doing in camps like Belsen.
I read Mark’s Gospel as a whole and came to the story of the passion; when I heard Jesus’ death cry, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ I felt growing within me the conviction; this is someone who understands you completely, who is with you in your cry to God and has felt the same forsakenness you are living in now….I summoned up the courage to live again.
Mark’s Gospel changed him as it has changed others. Reading it in one sitting is powerful and not hard; perhaps you can fit it into your schedule in the coming week?
For if the gospel is to bring about change in our world we need to be transformed by its message so that we live out the gospel in both word and action.
In the words of St Teresa of Avila
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”