Easter 3A, the Feast of St. Mark observed, by the Rev. Hannah Hooker
Today we are celebrating the feast of St. Mark, our namesake. Many of you know that this brings me great joy because the Gospel according to Mark is my very favorite Gospel. Most Episcopalians that I know are John fans. I get it. We are an intellectual, inquisitive group, and we value the mystical spirituality in John’s writing. Who doesn’t get excited when they hear “In the beginning was the Word”? But I’d like to take this opportunity to make my case for Mark.
Mark was the earliest gospel to be written down, right after the Jewish war against the Romans, when the temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. Although Christ’s ministry was only 40 years prior, war is horrific and traumatizing and many Jews returned to their narrative of waiting for a warrior messiah to rescue them. This is the world Mark lived in. Now Mark was not the brightest bulb in the tanning bed, which we know because his Greek grammar was very simple and his misquotes Old Testament scripture all the time. But Mark had been following Peter and Paul all around the Near East and Europe as they preached about Christ, and he was firm in his belief that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, and that his life was the good news. And so Mark sat down, not to write a biography of a famous historical figure, but to proclaim. The Gospel according to Mark is a proclamation. This gospel is living proof that even the most uneducated, run of the mill folk can proclaim Jesus Christ to the world.
And what’s more, Mark’s Gospel starts out very similarly to John’s: “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ the son of God.” Just like his thoughtful, esoteric counterpart John, Mark gives us a firm sense of the importance of this beginning. He is saying to us that whatever existed before, whatever we thought we knew, the true beginning, the one that matters most, is the Gospel of Christ.
I attended a beautiful funeral this week, and the preacher said something that stuck with me. He spoke about all the times and all the different ways that Jesus can enter our lives, and how it is never too late to begin a new life with Christ. I found this encouraging, both because of all the people in the world and especially in my own community who have never experienced the love that I have found in Christ, but also because of all the times in my own life that I forget or ignore that love. It seems to me that whether you have never darkened the door of a church or you haven’t missed a Sunday in 30 years, we all get off track, we all lose sight of our purpose, we all feel unloved, and we can all use a new beginning from time to time. Sometimes our new beginning is obvious, like starting a new job, moving, having a baby. Sometimes, our new beginning is more subtle, like embarking on a prayer regimen, or resolving to have a better attitude about a broken relationship. But often, when we find ourselves lost or at the bottom of the barrel, the way to a new beginning is hidden. And when that happens, where do we start?
We start where Mark starts. At the beginning. If for John, the beginning is the Word, for Mark, the beginning is good news. We can find and proclaim good news in all kinds of places, from the church pew to the office to the drive thru window. We find good news in the birth of a baby, the renewal of wedding vows, a completed project that makes us proud. We can proclaim good news in a million ways from being kind to waiters to helping a friend move to praying with someone who is frightened.
Many of us have found that our favorite place to hear and proclaim good news is right here at St. Mark’s. Now I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the history of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Jonesboro, including many hand written notes and letters and event accounts, some written by parents and grandparents of folks sitting in this room. I’ve read all about how St. Mark’s started in 1894, but I can’t seem to find any indication of why the original members chose to name their new church after St. Mark. Sure, he started the church in Africa and may have been martyred, but this is no more than many other apostles did in that time. So why Mark? I have realized this week that whatever the reason, naming this community St. Mark’s was prophetic, because every day, I see you all start at the beginning, with good news.
When the world says, prioritize you and disregard the outsider, St. Mark’s opens its doors and welcomes everyone to worship no questions asked. When people in our community are hungry, St. Mark’s finds ways to feed them. When pain and disaster strike, St. Mark’s gathers here to pray. When folks are sick or shut in, St. Mark’s members visit them. When someone dies, St. Mark’s prays for them and celebrates with hope their new life in the Kingdom of Heaven. When we sit down in table fellowship together we begin with grace. We may not be perfect, but St. Mark’s starts every day with the good news that Christ is present in the world.
I certainly don’t mean to turn all the John lovers out there onto Team Mark. The world needs John’s dynamic Christology just as much as it needs Mark’s simple message of hope. But if we can learn anything from St. Mark and his Gospel, I hope it is this: that we start every day, every plan, every idea, every relationship, every solution to every problem, every journey, even through tragedy, with the good news that Jesus Christ the Son of God is present with us, sustaining us, redeeming us, carrying us, loving us. This is the foundation on which our community is built. Our legacy. Our beginning. Amen.