Sermon – Feast of St Mark

Today, we celebrate a Feast Day. Today we remember one of the younger followers of the Lord. One of the witnesses of the first days of the church. Someone who himself wrote down stories and sayings and passed them on to us so that we could find faith in the risen Lord.

Today is St Mark?s Day ? the day we remember in particular, with affection and in celebration, the writer of the third gospel, whose own words were the words that I have just been reading to you.

Mark?s Gospel is now almost universally agreed to be the first of the Gospel?s to have been written down. On this, his Feast Day, it is perhaps worth thinking for a minute or two about the process of writing a gospel. What is it? What was it? Was Mark inventing a new genre or writing something that would be immediately understood at the time.

I was struck this week by someone writing on the BBC Religion and Ethics website about seeing Jesus through Jewish Eyes. It is worth listening to (and looking up too)?

I could see, even at 17, what Matthew was doing. He was proving that all the prophecies relating to the Messiah were manifest in Jesus. Virgin birth? Tick. White donkey? Tick. Hanged on a tree? Tick. But I’d never been taught as a Jew to pay much attention to these details of messianic credential. How will we know the Messiah? Easy. The world will be at peace. Cross.
I could see Luke floundering in Jewish preoccupations he couldn’t fathom. What were they all squabbling about? But with Mark and John, I felt more home.

The world Mark describes sounds not dissimilar from the world I know from the Talmud and the Midrash, those compendia of rabbinic debate, quoting about 1000 rabbis, spanning nearly a 1000 years.

I recognised the pleasure in argument and verbal honing, the clever use of proof-texts, the camaraderie and generosity underlying disagreements, as the rabbis call them, for the sake of Heaven. I couldn’t detect anything much Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark which couldn?t also be found in the mouth of some rabbi – I want to say, some other Rabbi – in these great treasure stores of the Jewish relationship with revelation.

Rather interesting, I think. (I?ll post a link on my blog for anyone who is interested in this to follow up).

Mark is writing then as a Jewish believer. A young believer too, according to the gospels themselves. Someone whose whole family seem to have got mixed up in this Jesus business, both before and after the resurrection.

When Mark writes to us, he writes in poor Greek. His text is stuttering and jagged. His storytelling is urgent and his language rather common. This is the language of the street (or perhaps more accurately that of the fishing-boat) not the kind of language that people use in synagogue or temple. Awkward Greek. Strange turns of phrase. Muddles participles. Yet urgent ? telling the tales with no additions, little comment, telling the story just like it is.

There is a tradition, worth recounting here that Mark was the one who brought Peter?s experiences to the world. Strange, isn?t it that Peter, who was to build the church left us no gospel. Paul had his letters in which he tells of his encounters with the Risen Lord, but Peter leaves us nothing quite like that. The theory is, that Mark was Peter?s amanuensis ? the one that Peter told his story to. The one, in short, who took down dictation.

If so, what we are hearing is not just the words of Mark, but the rushed recollections of Peter, who had seen it all for himself.

Mark was one of the first to spread the gospel abroad from Jerusalem. He ended up in Egypt ? Alexandria to be precise and was martyred for his faith on Easter Day, in the year AD 68.

He is the Patron Saint of Egypt and I remember well being there on his Feast day a couple of years ago. Indeed, I visited the place where some of his relics now lie in Cairo. And there everyday there are people who pray. People who keep vigil. People for whom Mark is very present and who still teaches them to walk gently with God.

I have been there. I have seen this. I am a witness to this.

I had to make a witness statement before a lawyer this week, in connection with the Park of Keir Inquiry which is coming up. I don?t know whether you have ever had to give evidence or appear as a witness. It is harder than you think. To present in a clear way the evidence that you need to get over is not as simple as it sounds ? I found myself working quite hard to present my evidence in 2000 words.

Mark?s gospel is a witness statement ? either his own or filled in with Peter?s memories too, – a witness statement about the one whom we remember at this time of year as the risen one. The one who came and changed everyone he met and changed everything about the world by his life and death and resurrection.

During this Eastertide, we salute Mark and Peter and the other apostles. They were there. They saw these things. They were witnesses.

So then, we now give thanks for St Mark and for his gospel and for all that is teaches us about the risen Lord.


Speak Your Mind