25th April 2024

The Feast of Mark the Evangelist

The Feast of Mark the Evangelist, preached by Revd Dr Lisa Cornwell

25 April 2024, 5.30pm

Pulpit prayer: May I speak in the name of God, Source of all being, Eternal Word and Spirit of Truth. Amen

8. nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places;
there will be famines.

We live in disturbing times. Events escalating in the Middle East, overshadowing ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Sudan.
Earthquakes in Tawain, Turkey and Syria, still ravaged by war.
Famines, instigated by war and climate chaos.The term apocalyptic has entered common parlance.

The verses from our gospel reading reverberate like an echo chamber down the centuries. They resonate loudly in 2024, as they did in the first century.

Mark chapter 13 feels more Advent than Eastertide
More famine than feast

Yet, today we celebrate the Feast of St Mark the Evangelist. Of all the possible readings, the so called Markan ‘mini apocalypse’ is the text allotted by the lectionary compilers in their wisdom. I can’t even blame the precentor.

It is generally agreed these days by scholars that Mark is the earliest of the gospels, written sometime between 67-73 AD.

Who was Mark?
There are various theories. Was he…
The young man who fled from Gethsemane, leaving behind his linen cloth, the only item he was wearing?
Or, was he John Mark who deserted Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey but later reconciled with Paul?
Or was he, Mark, the interpreter of Peter, who documented all that Peter remembered?
The book doesn’t actually say who it is by. Kata Markon, “according to Mark”, was added to the gospel about 75 years after it was written. It is anonymous. The author considers their identity to be unimportant because the most important thing is who it is about.

Jesus’ true identity as the Messiah, Son of God and Son of Man, is a key theme of the gospel. His identity is recognised by the most unlikely outsiders but misunderstood by the insiders, the religious authorities, his own family and even his own disciples.
So, let’s concern ourselves with the message of Mark’s gospel rather than who Mark was exactly, and specifically, the lesson for us today through the lens of our designated gospel text.

Chapter 13 begins with Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of the Temple and the disciples’ question: “when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” The passage we heard is part of Jesus’ long-winded answer. It functions as a farewell discourse to his disciples on the Mount of Olives.

Mark 13 is apocalyptic in tone but without the characteristic heavenly vision and weird imagery. It details a programme of events which lead up to the End but Mark’s intention is to warn his readers about the trials in store and to be prepared for a long struggle, not to infer that the final judgement and disaster are imminent.

The first part of the discourse warns about things that might be seen as the sign the disciples requested but they must not be led astray by false signs. However portentous such developments may appear, they do not signify the breaking in of the End only that it will come one day.
The first section refers to dangers and afflictions that will affect all people. The second section concerns sufferings that may befall Christians.
The theme of discipleship, introduced at the very beginning of the gospel, is very much in evidence here. Throughout Mark’s gospel we witness the total demands that the call of Christ makes upon his followers. Discipleship means the imitation of Christ; conformity to the pattern of Christ.

In Mark 13, as the shadow of the cross looms large, it becomes clear that discipleship entails suffering for the sake of the gospel. Mark reminds the Christian community that they must expect persecution – they must be prepared to share Jesus’ suffering.
This is the paradox of the cross – we must be identified with the shame and suffering, in order to share in the life and glory which come through the cross.

Those who follow the way of the cross faithfully will be vindicated. Mark encourages his readers by his confidence in the final Parousia of the Son of man in glory.

Christ’s followers are not to be anxious or dismayed. What they must do is preach the gospel, stand firm and watch. And so, the emphasis of these verses is on endurance.

Christians today are persecuted for their faith in many parts of the world. But Britain is no North Korea or Afghanistan.
We have things easy by comparison. When the church becomes respectable, and being a Christian is no longer an automatic passport to ridicule and persecution, we are liable to reinterpret Christ’s demands to mean something far less demanding, what the German theologian Bonhoeffer described as “cheap grace”.

Cheap grace is the opposite of costly grace. “Cheap grace… is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.”

We are called to take a stand for gospel truth and justice. That can be costly. Costly to reputation; vulnerable to persecution on social media. We are to persevere, to trust, to depend upon the Holy Spirit. Know that ultimately God is sovereign.

However grim the circumstances and desperate the suffering, there is no apocalyptic meltdown capable of destroying the Image of God in our spiritual DNA. The hope of Easter remains shot through us, like the lettering in a stick of rock.

Christ has trod the path before us, the Spirit sustains us,
The Creator is our centre and circumference. One of the most powerful prayers for protection ever composed still serves as a breastplate for us 16 centuries on. I will conclude with a shortened version of the…

Prayer of St. Patrick (The Deer’s Cry)

I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me
God’s eye to look before me
God’s wisdom to guide me
God’s way to lie before me
God’s shield to protect me
From all who shall wish me ill
Afar and a-near Alone and in a multitude
Against every cruel, merciless power
That may oppose my body and soul

Christ with me, Christ before me
Christ behind me, Christ in me
Christ beneath me, Christ above me
Christ on my right, Christ on my left
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down
Christ when I arise, Christ to shield me
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me
I Arise today.