LETTER FROM OUR MINISTER, REV. ROBERT BARTHRAM
The four Gospels in our Bibles each have their own distinctive characteristics and one of Mark’s Gospel is how, at times, it has vivid details. For instance, in the description of the feeding of the five thousand it states that the grass the people were told to sit on was green, which in a hot land would be the case in springtime (6:39). A possible reason for the snatches of vivid detail is that Mark wrote his book in Rome and had as a main source for his work the reminiscences of the disciple Peter.
Another vivid detail only found in Mark’s Gospel is, when Jesus was travelling to Jerusalem with his disciples, Mark tells us he ‘was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid’ (10:32). Jesus had already told his disciples that suffering and death awaited him in Jerusalem, now he walks ahead and they follow being both astonished and afraid.
It is a detail that conveys so much about that moment and about the disciples; they were astonished about their leader and afraid because of what he had told them. They continued to follow, despite what they had been told, awaited Jesus in the capital but, fearful, they hung back as they followed; a scene of uncertainty. That picture has come to my mind these last few days.
There is great uncertainty at this time. There is a new virus sweeping the world, seemingly unstoppable, with no vaccine yet available. Our normally predictable world has been taken from us, causing a raft of emotions including fear and much uncertainty. One can see reasons to be uncertain, with different governments coming up with varying approaches and no personal certainty about how it will affect us and our families and friends. So much may have changed between when I type this and when you read it. It was put succinctly by someone on television who I heard say, ‘People are so uncertain about what is coming.’
What can we draw from the picture of those disciples following at a distance? Firstly, one has to be honest and say their fears were realised. Jesus did die the horrific death of crucifixion. Bad things can and do happen in this world. As Christians we should be the most realistic of people. Secondly, that death happened because of Jesus' obedience to his Father. He saw it as necessary and in spite of the anguish it caused him, he went to meet his betrayer. We do not follow a Saviour who turns away from doing what is necessary and right for others.Thirdly, we may know how that death for us was a victory, which is affirmed by the resurrection: the empty tomb is God’s seal upon the cross of Christ that he was not only bearing the sin of the world but bearing it away successfully. As always, in life we do not know what the days and weeks ahead hold for us but we know who has lived a human life before us and done so triumphantly.
A scene from Mark’s Gospel of uncertainty, a picture for our uncertain times, as the Good News Bible puts it very well, they ‘were filled with alarm.’ We should, like the first disciples, be astonished at our Lord and although have natural anxieties for ourselves and others we know that we follow, however falteringly, a risen Lord, as a hymn I recently sang reminds us:
“My heart may low be laid,
And can I be dismayed?
My Saviour has my treasure,
And he will walk with me.”
Yours in Christ,