Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

St Mark
April 26, 2012, 6:48 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Saints’ Clifton and Holy Nativity, Knowle, 25th April 2012

The Saint who first found grace to pen
The life which was the Life of men,
And shed abroad the Gospel’s ray,
His fame we celebrate today.

So begins Lawrence Houseman’s hymn in honour of the Saint in the old English Hymnal, ending with a reference to him as “the first Evangelist.” Hold hard! I hear you say: is not St Matthew the first Evangelist? His Gospel comes first in the New Testament. Well, yes and no. According to our earliest source, Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis, who lived from around 60AD until 130AD, Matthew compiled the sayings of our Lord in Aramaic, and his work was translated into Greek. Mark was Peter’s “interpreter” wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he had heard of the Lord’s words and acts. Peter used to adapt his stories to the occasion, not systematically, and so Mark had to arrange the material as seemed to make a coherent narrative. Papias claimed to have received this information from “the presbyter John”, who was probably the author of the Book of Revelation, if not the same as the Evangelist. Papias stresses that he had taken great pains to learn what the Apostles themselves had said, and there is no solid reason to doubt his testimony.

Mark, then, was an associate of Peter, recording Peter’s memories of Jesus. In the first letter of Peter, we heard him say “your sister in Babylon (a codeword for Rome) who is with you among the chosen, sends you greetings; so does my son Mark.” Again, there is no reason to doubt that Peter did have an associate called Mark, whose name was well-known to the Churches to whom the letter was sent, in the same part of the world as Papias lived.

Can we say more? Perhaps not- we don’t know whether Peter’s Mark was the same as the one who was a companion of Paul, because Marcus was quite a common name. He may have been. He may have led the Church in Alexandria, Egypt, after Peter’s death. That is the Egyptian tradition, and it may well be true. But what we do know is that the Gospel we attribute to him exists, and had an author: that is the man we celebrate today. St Mark’s Gospel was so authoritative that both Luke and the final editor of Matthew’s Gospel used it as the framework for their own work, together with what may well have been a Greek version of the Apostle Matthew’s collection of our Lord’s sayings. So, yes, Mark was the first Gospel-writer, the writer of what he himself called “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

And so may all whose minds are dark
Be led to truth by good Saint Mark,
And after this our earthly strife
Stand written in the Book of Life.

Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: