TO: Prayer leaders, Musicians, Homilists, Readers, Coordinators, ministers and all interested folks
FROM: Worship Committee
RE: Advent 2014 B
Nonviolence: Kinship with Creation
With the beginning of the new church year on November 30, 2014, the community of the Spirit of St. Stephen begins its 20th consecutive year of praying for nonviolence and working for peace. For two decades we have been praying to be a people of reconciliation, forgiveness, prophetic voices, hunger and justice while exploring the many names of I AM. This year we return to a prayer we have taken up several times before but perhaps never with such urgency and certainly with more information. The interconnectedness of the entire cosmos with each cell of creation has never been clearer; with that, our responsibility is unavoidable. We pray often though perhaps not always consciously “Thy kin*dom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our kinship calls us to honor and preserve the heaven beneath our feet, the breath in our lungs, the breeze scattering snow flakes, the ancient light of stars in the more ancient night sky. This is our prayer focus in the new liturgical year. We will use the elements, the seasons, the newspaper, and the challenges of prophetic voices as a lens for praying sacred scripture and celebrating the feasts of the church year. It will be splendid.
Mark is our primary Gospel writer in this B cycle of the new liturgical year. The second gospel in the collection of sacred texts, Mark’s is actually the oldest of the four gospels and the writers of Matthew and Luke drew heavily from his writings. There is some speculation that Mark, as the nephew of Barnabas, heard Peter preaching (and perhaps acted as his interpreter) on many occasions. After Peter was martyred in Rome in 64 AD, Mark set out to write down the stories he had heard so often.
Mark’s gospel is the shortest of all the gospels and can seem stark, almost terse, when compared with the other writers. The details we do get and the stories that appear in Mark alone are all the more dear to us for his brevity.
Characteristics of Mark’s Gospel: [William Barclay The Gospel of Mark]
It is “a picture of Jesus as he was”—the nearest thing we will ever get to a report of Jesus’s life—and its great characteristic is realism.
Mark never forgets the divine side of Jesus. To Mark, Jesus was not simply a man among human beings; he was God among humankind, ever moving them to a wondering amazement with his words and deeds.
At the same time, no gospel gives such a human picture of Jesus. No one tells us so much about the emotions of Jesus as Mark does.
Over and over again Mark inserts the little vivid details which are the hall-mark of an eyewitness. IF Mark accompanied Peter on his missions, he would have had may opportunities to hear the eye-witness stories of Peter which Mark could then weave throughout his narrative.
Mark’s realism and simplicity come out in his Greek style. His story-telling is not polished or carefully crafted. He is fond of the words “immediately”, “and straightaway”. In the Greek he talks of things in the historic present —as if they were happening before his eyes. He often uses the very Aramaic words that Jesus spoke which he would have heard from Peter and Peter heard from Jesus.
It would not be unfair to call Mark’s writings the essential gospel.
Mark is our primary Gospel writer in this B cycle of the new liturgical year. Because of Mark’s brevity, we have no birth stories but begin immediately with the appearance of John the Baptist as foretold by the prophet Isaiah. As is true of all the Advent gospels, we start with a call from near the end of the gospel that we are to stay awake and watch for the Chosen One will come.
The central question in Mark’s collection of stories is Who is Jesus? The earliest written of the four gospels, it still was some 60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Who was Jesus could have been his topic but the writer of Mark was testifying to the living God. The gospel of Mark is direct, succinct and even terse in places but the question: Who is Jesus? remains as loaded with grace, hope and insight as it did in the first century.
In the culture of the time, Mark’s Jesus refers to the “Kingdom of God.” It is a symbol of a new age and God’s real presence in the world as redeemer and healer. God would be understood to be acting as a King with all the power and authority given to the rulers of that time and for generations before.
In the culture of our time, we refer to the “Kin*dom of God” and can find many similarities. The kindom of God will be on earth as it is in heaven and the power of our relationship with Brother Jesus, Mother Mary, Abba God, in addition to each molecule of creation in the Universe will be the power that binds us as a family. In this family there will be miracles: healing, unconditional love, circles so big that everyone is in and no one is out. There will be revelation, wisdom, and hope. “Nothing is impossible with God” says our sister Mary in the gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Advent and we cling to this truth.
Nothing is impossible: we can change our ways, our hearts and learn to live with respect for all living creatures. Nothing is impossible: we can save our precious water, our magnificent glaciers, our Northern Lights and every gift of creation. Nothing is impossible: we can be kin and loving family within the wonder of creation—“on earth as it is in heaven.”
In the usual pattern of Advent readings, the First Sunday begins near the conclusion of the chapter, carrying on the images and readings of the end time. Then we go back to the very beginning of Mark for a story of John the Baptiset then into John, Luke, and Matthew for the rest of Advent and Christmastide.
We will begin simply, in this simple season, by becoming mindful of our need, our community’s need, our world’s need as we are invited into prayer. Because ‘This is My Body, this is My Blood’ in the tangible signs of Bread and Wine are two of our powerful images of God, we return always to the table of the Eucharistic feast and the words that push us to action every day of the year: Do this in memory of me.
Christmas, Easter and Pentecost are the trinity of feasts that frame our year of prayer and we will find Brother Jesus in new ways through the images of darkness, stars, animals, straw, water, rock, wood, dusty roads, fire, as we seek the God of all Creation in the Gospel of Mark. In straightforward words and no uncertain terms we are called to Stay Awake! Watch!
And so we begin anew in our unbroken circle of prayer, watching, waiting, hoping.
We begin simply in this season of Advent as our ancestors in faith have done for centuries. We begin by creating some quiet space to enter into reflective prayer and call out our need in new and ancient melodies. We begin by gathering ourselves in the mystery and the name of Emmanuel, God-with-Us. We begin with darkness as an equal and necessary partner in the holy circle. We begin with the fragrance of evergreen branches in our nostrils and the site of majestic pines just outside our windows. We begin by lighting the candles of promise and possibility that shine at their most beautiful in the dark. We begin by opening our hearts to a new season of God’s life-giving and heart-expanding revelation through the prayerful consideration of Kinship with Creation. We begin.
As a Christian people, when we prepare to begin our new church year we are at our most radical and counter-cultural. Perhaps we are even at our gospel best in this short, dark, lovely season. We begin this prayer during the season of Promise and Hope, the season of waiting, wonder and awe, the season of coming fulfillment. We renew ourselves to the difficult prayer and action of nonviolence, expanding our peaceful actions to every cell of creation, with a conscious consideration that is at once basic and prophetic. We seek the place of true peace in our own heart to root us in this new growth. Mother Earth encourages us to slow down, contemplate, breathe deeply of the unique air bearing snowflakes, admire the Advent-blue night sky, to wait. Residents of the Northern hemisphere we are reminded to open our hearts like the leafless branches around us and love the life deep within that we cannot see. The season of Advent calls us to many of the same postures. Our culture calls us to frantic busyness, multiplication of lights to keep the darkness at bay, over-consuming, over-indulging, over-scheduling, Christmas muzak filling the silence and gifts without heart or soul; often we answer the call. Perhaps our prayer focus this year will call us more into being than doing. Perhaps by using all of our senses in a most intentional way we will truly be kin with all of creation.
In the midst of this clash of season and culture, we take the opportunity to carve out some stillness and maybe even some silence throughout our weekly community Eucharistic prayer. We will continue the centuries-old tradition of lighting the Advent wreath, its four candles calling to the fire of life in our very bones. We will call ourselves into this prayer quietly with a simple chant, a simple truth: “Be still and know that day and night, Be still and know that dark and light are one holy circle.” We invite prayer leaders, homilists and musicians to place the prayer of words and sounds conscientiously into the quiet created by the singing bowl. We welcome the challenge of the gift and burden of silence in this season of active waiting.
They watch for Christ
who are sensitive, eager, apprehensive in mind,
who are awake, alive, quick-sighted,
zealous in honoring him,
who look for him in all that happens, and
who would not be surprised,
who would not be over agitated or overwhelmed,
if they found that he was coming at once…
This then is to watch:
to be detached from what is present, and
to live in what is unseen;
to live in the thought of Christ as he came once,
and as he will come again;
to desire his second coming, from our affectionate
and grateful remembrance of his first. John Henry Newman