4th Sunday of Easter

25th April 2021
St Mark’s Patronal Festival
4th Sunday of Lent
 Year B


 Collect of the Day

Almighty God,
who enlightened your holy Church
through the inspired witness of your evangelist Saint Mark:
grant that we, being firmly grounded
                   in the truth of the gospel,
may be faithful to its teaching both in word and deed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

 

Acts 15.35-41

Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

 

Ephesians 4.7-16

To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

     “When he ascended on high,
         he led captives in his train
         and gave gifts to men.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

 

 

 

 

 

Mark 13.5-13

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth-pains.

“You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

 

Reflection by Rodney Fox

 

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, but the 25th April is also the date designated to be the feast day of St Mark, and so the patronal festival of St Mark’s Church in Wootton.  Mark is a somewhat elusive figure in that it is not clear whether all the stories in the New Testament attributed to the name Mark refer to the same person, however traditionally that is what the church has believed. 

 

Mark was born in Libya at Cyrene and was one of the 72 disciples sent out by Jesus (Luke 10, 1 to 12) ‘like lambs among wolves’ without purse or bag or sandals to every town and place where Jesus was about to go, in order to prepare the way for him.  It must have taken some courage for Mark, still only a youth, to set out on that missionary journey, taking nothing except his faith in Jesus with him.  But the next time that we encounter him is in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus is arrested and a young man, supposed to be Mark himself, is reported (Mark, 14, 51 to 52) as running away naked, leaving his garment behind.  If the young man was indeed Mark, then it seems that on this occasion his courage failed him, and he ran for his life.

 

A cousin of Barnabas, Mark was a natural choice to join Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey.  However, as we read in the first reading for today from the Acts, when they crossed from Cyprus to Pamphylia, in Asia Minor, Mark decided that he wanted to return home, a decision that Paul regarded as nothing short of desertion.  So, when it came to planning their second missionary journey, Paul declared Mark to be unreliable and refused to allow him to accompany them.  Barnabas and Paul had a serious quarrel over this which resulted in them going their separate ways, Barnabas taking Mark with him on a separate trip to Cyprus.  It seems that once again Mark’s nerve had failed him when the first journey reached into unfamiliar territory and Paul couldn’t forgive him.  However, things turned out well as Barnabas and Mark became frequent travelling companions. 

 

In AD 42, the Apostle Peter took Mark with him to Rome to act as his scribe and interpreter.  It was during that journey and the year that he spent with Peter in Rome that Mark wrote down many of Peter’s sermons, which were to form the basis of the gospel that is attributed to him.  Mark journeyed to Alexandria in AD 43, where he is credited with having established the church and where he became the first Bishop of Alexandria, a role that he held for about 20 years.  Sadly, Mark was making a return visit to Alexandria in AD 68, probably to visit some friends, when the Alexandrians thought that his return heralded a renewed drive to wean them off worshipping their traditional gods.  A mob tied a rope around his neck and dragged him round the city until he was dead.  He was buried in Alexandria, but his body was stolen in 828 by some merchants from Venice and ever since has been housed in St Mark’s Cathedral in Venice.

 

Mark’s symbol is of a lion, which is also the symbol of the city of Venice.  A lion is, of course, symbolic of courage.  Even though, as we have seen, on at least two crucial occasions Mark’s courage failed him, he still went on to travel to Alexandria, a hazardous unknown city in which to proclaim the gospel, and to Rome, a centre of Christian persecution, and he died a martyr.  Mark’s story gives encouragement and hope to us that despite our weaknesses and failings, God never gives up on us and can still use us in building his kingdom.  And, of course, Mark’s friendship with Peter led to him writing down for us Peter’s apostolic witness to the life and teaching of Jesus, our own window on the extraordinary events that forever changed the world.

 

A patronal festival is not, however, only a time to celebrate the life and legacy of the patron saint.  It is also a time to remember and be thankful for the blessings that come to us through our membership of the church that bears the saint’s name.  St Mark’s Wootton is a relatively modern building, so there are still those who can remember the people whose vision and faith built it, their struggle to pay for it, their debates about the plans, their excitement when it was actually built.  Other churches in our plurality are too old for such memories but we can imagine that any church building at any time will have cost those responsible many sacrifices and we should be thankful for the inheritance of faith, love and hope in a stable community that is their bequest to us.  At this time, when there is much discussion in the church about whether we need so many of our buildings, which are costly to maintain, a patronal festival reminds us to be grateful for the costliness of building them and the many benefits that we have received because of and through them.  As we contemplate the future, may we be careful about the inheritance of faith, love, hope and community stability that we will leave for those who will follow us.

 

So, today as we honour and give thanks for St Mark and for those who have built and sustained St Mark’s and all of our churches, may we pray that, following the example of St Mark, we in our time may overcome any fearfulness and strive bravely to proclaim the gospel to this and future generations.  Amen   

 

Post Communion Prayer

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above):

Acts 15.35-41 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Ephesians 4.7-16 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Mark 13.5-13 ©  1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton
Collect (Mark) ©  The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)