The gospel for St Mark’s Day contains the line – when you hear wars and rumours of wars, do not be afraid. This is a St Mark’s Day like no other.
St Mark’s gospel probably written around 30-40 years after the death of Jesus. It was written to be heard as so few people could read.
We are so used to reading stories in books that we can forget that stories that are created to be heard in a group are crafted in a different way to stories to be read individually. As the storyteller you need to grasp your audience’s attention and keep it. Jesus in this gospel is active and always off somewhere and on the move. There is no hanging about with description of what anyone looks like or the flowers, it is all action and onto the next event.
If you are telling a story in a community you have a lot of distractions as the children want feeding, the dog is stealing the supper so the storyteller needs bring his listeners into the story. We sympathise with or mock those early disciples who just don’t get it. What more evidence do you need we might think? Those disciples are too thick, too preoccupied to see what is in front of them. Surely we would have been different. We are in the story.
This sense of entering into the story is really obvious when we get to the end. Mark’s gospel ends abruptly with the women at the tomb so frightened they say nothing. To make any sense of it we have to go back to the beginning of the story and the first words of that gospel ‘The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.’ The end leads us to the beginning.
This is not a gospel that ties up all the loose ends and does our theological and spiritual work for us. This is the work of a storyteller in a community. We can chew over the story with them and find out what everyone else thinks. We are invited to go back, again and again to witness the healings and hear the teaching and be present at the death and resurrection of Jesus and be with the women who are too frightened to say anything, but they must have or we wouldn’t be here today.
This is a story which is circular rather than linier, based on community rather than the individual where the story doesn’t end when we close the covers of the book. That is a challenge to the culture of the book with a beginning and a middle and an end which is put on the shelf when we have finished it.
At this time of social distancing it is worth remembering we are not at the end of the story yet. The next line in the verse at the beginning of this reflection is ‘do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come’ Yes our certainties have been overturned yet God is with us in Jesus. Perhaps it is our determination to have things neat and tidy and sorted and back on the shelf needs revisiting. Do not be alarmed.
In this time of uncertainty, the gospel of St Mark with its invitation to engage in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; to bring ourselves and our questions knowing that the answers may not be where we are looking for them is a place of hope.
Be more storyteller. Get involved with the story. Be more Mark.
Happy St Mark’s Day