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Sermon: Choral Evensong - 24 April 2016

Sunday 24th April 2016
Choral Evensong
Isaiah 52: 7-10
Mark 1: 1-15
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A sermon preached at Evensong for the Eve of St Mark.

‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ (Mark 1.1)

In nomine Patris…

St Mark’s gospel is short, and to the point. It is easily readable at one sitting, and, in fact, it is regularly and comfortably performed as a monologue.

There is a pithiness and pace about St Mark’s gospel. The linking words, ‘next’, ‘then’ and ‘immediately’, are absolutely characteristic of his writing. The narrative moves along all the time. Mark is the sort of writer who doesn’t use ten words when one will do. His economy of words reflects the urgency of his message.

Mark sounds like a man in a hurry to convey something that is so significant and so life-changing that he cannot restrain it. There is a breathlessness about Mark’s writing. But this shouldn’t be confused with superficiality or lack of depth.

Mark’s gospel, precisely because of his style and content, has remarkable and profound depth. His opening line, ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ captures this. It works in two ways.

First it’s the opening line of the Gospel that bears Mark’s name. It is the beginning of a book that has an ending. But Mark’s gospel has two possible endings. This is because of manuscripts of Mark’s gospel that have been found which have different endings, a short one and a long one. Either way it is clear that Mark’s gospel takes it as read that the reader, you and me, knows that Jesus Christ is Son of God and is risen from the dead.

And that relates to the second way in which Mark’s gospel is only the beginning of the story, albeit a decisive one. It is the beginning because the story – good news - is not yet closed. Indeed it will not close until the very end of the world. Mark wants to draw us in to the decisive and compelling life of Jesus Christ who is the very image of the Father.

So Mark begins his telling of the Good News – the Gospel – with a pithy statement that is at the same time to the point and suggestive of so much more to come, as beginnings always are. The gospel continues and will continue until its fulfilment at the time when, in St Paul’s words, ‘God shall be all in all’ (1 Corinthians 15.28; Colossians 3.11)

Mark’s pace, which I have referred to, is set from the opening verses. John the Baptist will prepare the way, a way along which Jesus will stride and will invite us to walk with him. Mark lays out a route in front of us.

And this way is prepared not strictly prepared by John, but by the Holy Spirit who makes Jesus known, then and now. As John declares ‘I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit’ (Mark 1.8). The Sprit continues revealing Jesus. The Spirit reveals Jesus when the heavens are torn apart - in that wonderful, vivid image - and the Spirit descends like a dove upon him (Mark 1.10).

And there is the work of the Trinity: the Sprit revealing Christ Jesus who is declared as the Beloved Son of the Father (1.11).

Yet still Mark’s gospel propels us on, since, no sooner than we hear the Father’s voice, Mark tells us in his typical register, ‘And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness’ (Mark 1.12). Mark may move at breakneck pace but there is space for contemplation: forty days in the wilderness and times when Jesus withdraws for quiet solitude. That experience in solitude of intimacy with the Father, resisting the temptations Satan is the prelude to Jesus himself saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news’ (Mark 1.15).

That verse restates the point of the very first verse, ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’

As we honour St Mark we honour someone who strides majestically along the path of Jesus Christ, who invites us to join him and to see the beginning of the eternal gospel lived and proclaimed in Jesus Christ. Mark, who walked and sailed and was blown along with the Apostle Paul, taking the good news, Gospel, to the very ends of the earth; a task with which we ourselves are entrusted.

May we be driven on by the Holy Spirit so that we know, make known and are known by Jesus Christ the Son of the Father. That’s Mark’s message, his proclamation: ‘the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’