St. Mark: The Gift of a Gospel

April 25, 2022

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate Saint Mark the Evangelist.

Pordenone: M‡rk evangelista
Mark the Evangelist by Il Pordenone (c. 1484-1539)

Who exactly that person was hides in the mists of early Church history. Several possible “Marks” are mentioned at various points in the New Testament. Whether they are the same or different persons and which, if any, is the author of Mark’s Gospel are questions scripture detectives have chased for centuries.

What the readings offer us today is a young man whom Peter loved and who absorbed the Good News under Peter’s own tutelage.

In today’s passage from Acts, Peter writes to Christians scattered throughout Asia Minor at the time of the persecutions. His teaching is clearly that of the universal leader of the Church helping the scattered flock to hold on to the faith.

Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, steadfast in faith,
knowing that your brothers and sisters throughout the world
undergo the same sufferings.

1 Peter 5: 8-9

It isn’t hard to read these ancient words and imagine Pope Francis speaking them to all of us today. The evils of the world still test our faith and resolve. But we are called to strengthen one another in faith, justice and mercy. Peter’s assurance can inspire us:

The God of all grace
who called you to his eternal glory through Christ Jesus
will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you
after you have suffered a little.
To him be dominion forever.  Amen.

1 Peter 5: 10-11

Mark, who sat at the feet of Peter’s strong and loving leadership, himself went on to become a devoted leader of Christ’s flock. Mark’s Gospel, reflecting much of Peter’s personal experience of Jesus, is an astounding gift to the Church yet to be born — to us!

How Mark must have cherished Peter’s brave and tender words to the young suffering Church and harkened back to them so often over the course of his life:

The chosen one (early Christian code for “the whole Church”)
sends you greeting, as does Mark, my son.

Greet one another with a loving kiss.
Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

1Peter5_14 kiss

That gracious “kiss” from Peter carried the love and power of every Christian, just as we carry it today in our constant prayer for and encouragement of one another.

Poetry: Mark – by Malcolm Guite

A wingèd lion, swift, immediate
Mark is the gospel of the sudden shift
From first to last, from grand to intimate,
From strength to weakness, and from debt to gift,
From a wide desert’s haunted emptiness
To a close city’s fervid atmosphere,
From a voice crying in the wilderness
To angels in an empty sepulcher.
And Christ makes the most sudden shift of all;
From swift action as a strong Messiah
Casting the very demons back to hell
To slow pain, and death as a pariah.
We see our Saviour’s life and death unmade
And flee his tomb dumbfounded and afraid.

Music: The St. Mark Passion – J.S. Bach

The St Mark Passion (German: Markus-Passion), BWV 247, is a lost Passion setting by Johann Sebastian Bach, first performed in Leipzig on Good Friday, 23 March 1731 and again, in a revised version, in 1744. Though Bach’s music is lost, the libretto by Picander is still extant, and from this, the work can to some degree be reconstructed.

The St. Mark Passion belongs to the lesser known treasures among the sacred opus of J.S. Bach. Thus, the present recording made in the Frauenkirche Dresden is all the more spectacular, since it is performed in the reconstructed version of 1731 published by Carus. The actor Dominique Horwitz recites the text of the Evangelist, alternating with the arias and chorales presented with impressive intonation and exciting drama by the Leipzig ensemble amarcord and the Kölner Akademie under the direction of Michael Alexander Willens.

Geh, Jesuh, geh zu deiner Pein!
Ich will so lange dich beweinen,
Bist mir dein Trost wird wiederscheinen,
Da ich versöhnet werde sein.

Go, Jesus, go to your suffering!
So long I will mourn you,
Until your consolation appears to me again,
When I shall be absolved.

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