Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fr. Wells' bulletin inserts


This Prayer Book Holy Day falls this year right in the middle of Eastertide, and under the Rules of Precedence it supplants the Third Sunday after Easter. That is altogether appropriate, since Mark was the human author of a Gospel. The Resurrection of Jesus is the very thing which makes the Christian message into Good News for perishing sinners, rather than just another religion for spiritual seekers.

As for Mark the man, we have a series of "maybe's." Maybe he was the man with the water jar (Mark 14:13) who guided the disciples to the Upper Room where Jesus would celebrate the Passover. Maybe he was the young man who fled away naked when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14:51). Maybe he was the first to write a Gospel, a claim which many modern scholars regard as a fact. (I still believe Matthew was first.) Maybe he was the founder of the Church in Egypt, a tradition which surfaced about 300 years after the time of Christ. We do know that Mark had a falling out with Paul but later became an assistant to Peter. Mark's Gospel surely seems to be Peter's memoirs.

Of greater importance, however, is the meaning of the word "Gospel" itself.

When we trace that word though the New Testament, it surely seems that Gospel was a verb before it was a noun. In Luke, at the birth of Jesus the Angel tells the shepherds, "I bring you good tidings of great joy." The Angel was evangelizing, or "gospelling" the shepherds.

This word Gospel was prominent in the vocabulary of the evil cult of the Roman emperor. The birth, coming of age, accession to his throne, or arrival in a city of every sordid tyrant were all called "Good News." So when Jesus of Nazareth, in Mark 1:14, came "heralding the Good News from God: the time is ripe and the regime of God is about to take over," He was boldly challenging the most dreadful earthly power.

When Mark described his brief book as "the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God," he was preparing to tell the story of the reign of God bursting upon our sinful human environment. First He conquered the demons, then He took on Caesar. And His only weapons were His Word and His Cross.

We began by saying that the Christian message, which Mark describes as "the Gospel of God," is not one of the world great religions, not even its highest or best or truest. Mark accurately portrayed the One who came preaching something unexpected, different, and new, the One whom Peter would confess, "Thou art the Christ." That confession, at precisely the mid-point of Mark's little book. is the essence of its message. LKW


Today and the next thee Sundays (Easter III through the Sunday after Ascension Day) our Gospel lessons are taken from the same chapter, John 16. That chapter is the conclusion of a longer unit which begins at John 13:31 known as the Farewell Discourses. This is a long sermon from the mouth of Jesus which He delivered in the Upper Room after the Last Supper before going out to the Garden of Gethsemane.

John makes the setting clear: these words were uttered before the crucifixion, not after. But they indeed sound like the teaching of the Risen Lord as He was preparing for His final Ascension. Luke tells us that in the “Great Forty Days” between the Resurrection and Ascension Jesus continued to open the Scriptures and instruct the disciples. These Discourses surely sound like just such teaching.

So was John confused? Quite apart from the supernatural assistance of the Holy Ghost who inspired him, John was a consummate literary artist. A remarkable feature of John's Gospel is that it does not separate the Saviour's humiliation and exaltation as chronological periods. In his opening chapter, John wrote, “We beheld His glory.” In this Gospel, the glory of God Incarnate was visible to the eyes of faith from the very beginning. His Divine glory transfigured every moment of His earthly human life.

As our Lord contemplated His suffering and death, soon to take place, He could speak of His passion almost in the past tense. His words are simultaneously true on two different levels. When He said, “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father,” He was speaking of two different departures and two different returns. He departed when He died on the cross; He departed when He ascended into heaven. He returned when He rose from the dead, and He will return again at His final Coming at the end of history.

We can read each verse of this chapter in just such a way, two levels, two meanings. For starters, consider the phrase “a little while.” The time between Jesus' death and resurrection was about 39 hours. But how long is the time between His ascension and final coming? Two thousand years, and still counting! Jesus nonetheless told us this was “a little while.” Peter clarified this in his statement that for God a thousand years was but as a day. God Himself is the timekeeper, not we ourselves. As we sing in Hymn 87,

Come then, true and faithful, now fulfill thy word,

'Tis thine own third morning! Rise, O buried Lord!

We remember His re-emergence from the tomb, we await His re-emergence from the skies. LKW

1 comment:

Jack Miller said...

I printed this up and my wife read it aloud as we drove down to LA on Saturday. An uplifting and rewarding read it was. Thank you Fr. Wells.