Sunday, April 3, 2011

April 2011 Parish Letter

“Almighty God, You have enriched Your Church with the proclamation of the Gospel through the evangelist Mark. Grant that we may firmly believe these glad tidings and daily walk according to Your Word; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

[Collect for St. Mark]

In April, the Church commemorates St. Mark, the Evangelist. His festival day is April 25, which happens to fall on the day following Easter this year. That timing of the Church Calendar is quite appropriate considering the focus of St. Mark’s Day: the proclamation of the Gospel, the good news of salvation that Christ has achieved. The joyous message is that Jesus has died and risen to redeem a fallen creation, including mankind, and the promise of everlasting life.

The theme of good news is found throughout the appointed readings for St. Mark’s Day. The portion of Isaiah’s prophecy read provides a description of those who proclaim a message of salvation: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion: ‘Your God reigns.’ The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted His people; He has redeemed Jerusalem.”(Is 52:7-9) For a war-ravaged Jerusalem, a herald’s proclamation that their God reigns, that they would see Him, was a welcome message. But that joy is surpassed by the announcement of a greater message, good news meant for people around the world.

The proclamation of the Lord’s actions to the ends of the earth is found in the next verse from Isaiah’s prophecy: “The Lord has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”(Is 52:10) What the Lord has done has effects for people outside of Jerusalem. His power has been displayed for all eyes to see. That display is the death and resurrection of Jesus: something that took place in public, for people to see. The witness of it was not to be limited to the people of Palestine; it was meant for others to receive, so that they would know how “the Lord has bared His holy arm.”

Jesus assigns the task of making known the Lord’s actions, so that “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God,” to His apostles and evangelists. That assignment is part of the Gospel Reading for St. Mark’s Day, a portion of his gospel record: “Afterward [Jesus] appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”(Mk 16:14-16) Jesus’ rebuke is for His disciples that did not believe the report of His resurrection. But now, after seeing Him raised from the dead, these same apostles receive the appointment to be proclaimers of Jesus’ resurrection and its effects to all creation. They would carry the news to the fallen world that desperately needed deliverance from sin, futility, and the assaults of evil and Satan.

Mark’s role in life was to be one of those appointed proclaimers. His place came from being closely associated with St. Peter, the chief apostle(Ac 12:6-19) and relation to Barnabas, St. Paul’s assistant on mission journeys(Ac 12:25; Co 4:10). His diligence in this task was not always great: “Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia.”(Ac 13:3-14a) It would cause a rift between Barnabas and Paul before their next mission journey and be a reason for his own rebuke: “And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.’ Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.” (Ac 15:36-40)

But Mark would ultimately proved to be a faithful proclaimer of the good news. Even Paul would find that to be so: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.”(2Tm 4:11b) He would be entrusted with recording the witness account of Peter, so that generations after his—even our own—would hear the teaching and works of Jesus. That is why the Church continues to commemorate him to this day. We recognize him as one that is lauded by the prophet Isaiah: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion: ‘Your God reigns.’”(Is 52:7) As we hear Mark’s gospel record of what Jesus has done, we receive him as a messenger who brings good news to us, who tells us that our God reigns when our eyes perceive sin, death, and Satan appear to be winning.

In our lives here on earth, we can be tempted to unbelief, to doubt. We are just like those disciples whom Jesus had to rebuke. And like Mark, we are often led to stray from the journey of discipleship, to run away when it proves to be difficult. But as we see this Evangelist restored and hear his faithful proclamation, our faith and belief is strengthened and revived. His publication of good news reaches us like the message that came to ancient Jerusalem and buoyed the Lord’s people.

So on St. Mark’s Day, we gladly hear the news of Jesus’ work for our salvation. This year, the day after Easter is most appropriate to read and listen to Mark’s declaration that Jesus has raised from the dead and is victorious over the grave and our old enemy. Therefore we pray in the Collect: “Grant that we may firmly believe these glad tidings and daily walk according to Your Word. . . .” As the Lord answers that prayer, we receive the great statement of salvation meant for us at the ends of the earth. We hear and believe in our Risen Savior. And we repeat the good news that the Lord’s faithful people proclaim in every age: “Blessèd is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God. . . . The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Alleluia!”(Ps 146:5, 10)

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