If you have exciting news, how easy do you find it to keep it to yourself? Are you someone who can keep your cool with total poker face, or do you look like you are about to explode if you don’t tell someone soon? I have no poker face at all. My colleagues can read my facial expressions like a book and know exactly what I am thinking – even across the choir stalls when we were able to sit there. And this past year Zoom has provided no shelter either.
I think Mark, the author of the oldest Gospel, whom we remember today, I think he had no poker face too. His gospel doesn’t mess about with shepherds, hillsides, wisemen, donkeys or camels. There is no gentle intro with backstory or journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mark is straight in and he wants us to get what he is on about immediately. He begins, ‘The beginning of the good news…’. It’s like a friend bursting in with the headline straight away without any run in. Imagine Pooh Bear flat on his back with an excited Tigger sitting on top of him. So Mark is not so much lion, as Tigger.
For Mark the important part of the story starts with John the Baptist proclaiming baptism for repentance for forgiveness. People are flocking to him and the reader or listener, since it was written to be heard, is given no doubt there is an event afoot with which we should get on board. The warm up act has begun. This is so exciting, don’t miss out. #BigNews.
That Good News which makes spiritual Tiggers bounce, is that God’s love has been let loose in Jesus Christ and this makes a difference. The hymn I’ve chosen for the end of the service, ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’, reflects the expanding horizons of that love. Skimming through Mark’s gospel you notice there are a lot of healing stories. In an age when illness was seen as punishment or a sign of the absence of God’s favour, Jesus in Mark brings blessing and new life to those often excluded. That new life heals leppers and a paralytic; it heals the mind in attitudes and anxieties in calling Levi from his tax collecting and stilling the storm. It expands beyond the in-crowd with the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and many more. The crowning glory of this good news comes with his resurrection, overcoming the chief excluder, death itself.
One of the biggest messages we have today is that there is a point and a purpose. Life is not futile, merely accidental and random; it springs from the heart and mind of God, is held by God and redeemed, kept by God. Pandemics rock us deeply and who is struck down by them can seem arbitrary and cruel. Purpose can be hard to see, especially through glasses misted up by facemasks. Mark asks us to look further, to broaden and widen our vision. He begins by announcing the Kingdom of God has come near. God is in charge – that’s what the kingdom means – and that invites a response in how we live in hope and love. The call to repent, is the call to reorientate how we live to be in line with this.
I have loved being around this building through the different seasons, big occasions and small, even on my own. What this fabulous building does, especially when filled with sublime music, is lift the spirit and expand the mind in awe and wonder, and that in turn inspires hope. A sense of the numinous, mystery and fascination is triggered – the early 20th century German theologian, Rudolf Otto’s famous phrase about religion as the ‘mysterium, tremendum et fascinans’. On that platform, we lay the story of Jesus healing, teaching, dying and rising, and if that story so grabs us that it becomes Good News to share, it releases the inner Tigger ready to bounce, trounce, flounce and pounce. It’s the wonderful thing about the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The test of this, the test of all churches, is how we speak of this love of God. How does it become infectious with that joy and exuberance of the good news that just won’t be kept inside? How does it work to transform the lives of everyone – those who are despairing or sad, desperate for food or shelter, needing to hear words of hope and songs of joy, looking for a place to cry and find they are held in a loving embrace? After a period when there has been despair, gloom, frustration and fear in this pandemic, this hope should find a ready market.
Mark is a Gospel for Tiggers, but also for the reflecters too. The story sits on the awe and wonder but bursts out with excitement and joy. We have such a wonderful story to share and it needs telling. You have one of the best tools here to tell it through and in. It’s a been a privilege to be part of this over the past few years and you will be in my prayers as your emerge out of this pandemic to embrace the challenge.
As I am having to learn to say:
a bendith Duw hollalluog,
y Tad, y Mab, a’r Ysbryd Glân
a fo yn eich plith ac a drigo gyda chwi yn wastad.
The blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
be among you now and always. Amen.
Final sermon in Peterborough Cathedral, Eve of St Mark, Sunday 25th April 2021