Living in two worlds

The Feast of St Mark
Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
25 April 2021

By Vittore Carpaccio – Google Art Project, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38019354

[ video ]

While almost everyone in Australia today is thinking about ANZAC Day, many Christians will also be observing the festival of Saint Mark. And those not doing so today will probably be remembering Mark tomorrow.

At first glance Mark has nothing to with the ANZACs.

Yet there are some interesting connections when we pause and think further about these two special commemorations which intersect for us every year.

For the most part, our religious calendar in Australia comes from the northern hemisphere, and Europe in particular. Our church year is out of sync with the place where we live and the patterns of this ancient land.

Instead of learning from the First Nations of this great south land, we cling to rituals and “seasons” which come from the “Old Country” and simply do not work here.

The festival for St Mark started out that way as well, but as it happened the holy day for St Mark was the day when the British forces—including the ANZAC troops from Australia and New Zealand—landed at Gallipoli.

As you may know from many ANZAC Day talks, that was not the day when the landing was supposed to happen.

It had been planned for 23 April (which happens to be St George’s Day), but bad weather slowed things down and the landing took place on 25 April instead (St Mark’s Day).

That was a Sunday in 1915 just as it is in 2021.

I do not imagine many of the soldiers were thinking about St George or St Mark on that terrible morning.

Yet ever since, for Australians and Kiwis, the feast of St Mark coincides with ANZAC Day.

We finally have a holy day that belongs to us!

Saint Mark has been conscripted into the ANZACs.

So, as we prepare to baptize Hamilton and Eddison, let’s think a little more about Mark.

We know very little about him, but here a few things we can list:

  • He was from Jerusalem
  • His mother had a house there
  • They had at least one servant (Rhoda) and perhaps others as well
  • The small group of Jesus people in Jerusalem met at Mark’s home
  • Mark’s mother ran a “safe house” for Jesus people
  • Peter goes to that house when he escaped from prison in Jerusalem
  • Mark knew people like Barnabas, Peter and Paul; and maybe also Mary the mother of Jesus, and James the brother of Jesus. Unless he was a very little boy at the time, he would also have known Jesus!

There is something else about Mark: he had two names.

We call him Mark which was a name he used when mixing with people from the wider community: merchants, soldiers, government officials, people who were not Jewish.

But inside his own culture and his own family he was known as John (Yohanan in Hebrew).

He had two names because he lived in two very different worlds: a Jewish world and a Roman world.

Mark was a young man, and maybe just a teenager, at a moment in time when everything was in the process of changing. As it happens, so were those young ANZACs who were landing at Gallipoli under hostile fire on this day in 1915. 

They did not know it at the time, but the world order was collapsing and everything was going to be different. We still have not put all the pieces back together in the Middle East since that war.

Mark did not realize at the time, but everything in the ancient world was about to change. A few weeks earlier, the Roman empire had executed Jesus. In less than 300 years’ time the Emperor of Rome would be a follower of Jesus, and instead of meeting in secret like the people who came to his mother’s house on a Saturday night, the Jesus people would be meeting in the town halls because so many people wanted to join their religion.

Hamilton and Eddison, you are alive in a time of huge change. Everything is changing around us. We do not know what the future will look like, but it will not be like the recent past.

In that sense, you guys and John Mark have quite a lot in common.

Mark did not have all the answers and he did not always get things right. But Mark had the courage to live as a person of faith in a world that was changing. He did not need all the answers, he just needed to know that Jesus’ message about the kingdom of God was the best way for him to live his life.

When you are baptized here in a few minutes time that is what you are doing as well.

You do not pretend to have all the answers, and I do not have them either. But you are saying YES to the opportunity to stand on the side of Jesus as everything in the world changes.

The rest of us here are standing beside you and Jesus as well.

We do not have all the answers either, but we have a hunch that by standing alongside Jesus we shall all be the right place and on the right side of history. We have a special word for that hunch: faith.

So let’s go to the font and say YES to Jesus, YES to God.

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in my publications, including my blog posts, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Diocese of Grafton nor Christ Church​ Cathedral in Grafton.
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