Sometime around the year 70, about 40 years after the crucifixion, someone first put the events of Jesus’ life into writing.
We don’t know who the author of that account was, because he (or she!) didn’t sign a name to it. But early Christian tradition ascribed authorship to John Mark, a friend of the apostle Peter. Thus, that first written account eventually became known as the Gospel of Mark.
Mark differs from the other gospels in a number of ways. It’s surprising what’s NOT included in Mark. Unlike Matthew and Luke, who begin with stories of Jesus’ birth, Mark opens with a fully-grown Jesus. Mark’s gospel ends with an empty tomb, but without any post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. These are found only in the later-written gospels. And the stories in between sometimes feel rushed, lacking the polish of later gospel writers.
Mark is a “just-the-facts, ma’am” kind of writer. There’s an urgency in Mark. He uses the word “immediately” more than 40 times, far more than any other gospel. But remember, this is a “wartime gospel.” This was written near the time of the Jewish revolt that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans. It was a catastrophic time for Mark’s community, a time of massive suffering and death. Things were happening fast, as the world they had known crumbled about them.
It’s good to know all this as we move into Advent and the beginning of a new church year. We’re going to be hearing a lot from Mark this year, as we move from Year A, when our gospel lessons tend to come from Matthew, to Year B, Mark’s year on the church calendar. Year C is Luke’s, and John shares time in all three years.
In January, we’re going to offer a four-week Coffee Hour class on the Gospel of Mark, just as we did this past year on the Gospel of Matthew. We’ll look at major themes in the gospel, delve more into what’s known about Mark and his community, explore his understanding of discipleship, and try to figure out that puzzling ending.
But that’s down the road. For the next four weeks, we’re going to be focusing on Advent. You’ll notice quite a few changes to our liturgy in the coming weeks, and that’s appropriate. We should feel a little bit unsettled, a little bit tentative in these weeks leading up to Christmas. After all, this is a time of waiting – joyous waiting, to be sure, but waiting nonetheless.
If you think our gospel lessons for the past few weeks have been a bit on the dark side, just wait until this Sunday. Jesus goes into full-on apocalyptic mode, sharing a vision of the end of human history, and urging us to be on the alert for the Lord’s coming. Understanding Mark’s historical situation may help put that in some perspective.
Beyond this, you’ll notice changes to our music, the presence of our Advent Wreath, and, most importantly, a change in the way we enter into worship during Advent. There will be an added emphasis on silence: Silence as we enter the worship space, and longer periods of silence in the course of the worship service.
And speaking of silence, let me commend to you our Advent Quiet Day this Saturday. (Technically, it’s a pre-Advent Quiet Day.) Brother Scott-Michael Pomerenk will be leading us in praying with several Advent-related scriptures. If you’re familiar with the practice of lectio divina, you know what to expect. If you’re not familiar with it, you will leave the morning newly equipped with a valuable new addition for your spiritual toolbox.
We’re going to be introducing some new music, including new settings for the Sanctus and the Fraction, and we’ll abandon the Gloria altogether and begin singing the Trisagion (“Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.”) We’re also going to begin singing “the Great AMEN” at the close of the Eucharistic prayer. Gretchen has something truly marvelous planned for our entrance hymn throughout Advent. I predict you’re going to love it.