Paula Franck and Isabel Anders in this Church Year Primer—a guidebook to the major themes and texts of the liturgical year—offer a practical, daily answer to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s call to “hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the words of Scripture in their yearly flow and weekly rhythm.
Circle of Days: Year B, offers theologically based reflections on the major Lessons found in Year B of the common liturgy. This primer is designed for anyone who desires deeper understanding of Scripture and its meaning in our lives.
Year B—The Year of Mark
Each of the three years of the Revised Common Lectionary cycle features one of the Synoptic Gospels with the Gospel of John interspersed through all three years. Year B of the lectionary is the year of Mark, and over the years in my writing for Synthesis Publications and now Circle of Days: A Church Year Primer – Year B my appreciation of Mark has continued to grow.
As the earliest of the four Gospels included in the New Testament, Mark was probably written in the late 60’s CE. Although we do not know with any certainty who wrote any of the Gospels, tradition says the author of Mark was John Mark of Jerusalem (Acts 12:12; Peter 5:13) from the memories of the Apostle Peter. Originating in Rome, Mark was written for the martyr church to preserve the apostolic witness after the persecutions of Nero in 64 CE and to encourage Gentile converts facing persecution.
As the primary source for Matthew and Luke, Mark is the shortest of the Gospels with 16 chapters. It is sometimes referred to as a passion narrative with an extended introduction. The writing style has been described as “street language”, and is not as polished as the Greek of Luke. There is a sense of urgency conveyed in the writing. Events move quickly – Mark uses the adverb immediately 42 times. The early Christian community expected the return of Jesus at any time, so it as though the author of Mark wanted to get the story written and told to as many people as possible in order to be ready for Jesus when he appeared again.
The opening verse is characteristic of this urgency: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). There is no nativity narrative, prophecies or opening prologue; Mark tells us immediately that Jesus is the Messiah and moves into the story.
The Gospel is written under the shadow of the cross. While Jesus brings life to the world, he is always walking towards his death. The disciples are depicted as being pretty much clueless as Jesus exclaims in exasperation: “Do you not yet understand?” (8:17-21) while other characters seem to “get it.” In contrast, the disciples are cast in a more heroic light by the later Gospel writers. There is an emphasis on miracles and overcoming the power of evil. Mark is also characterized by the so-called “messianic secret.” After a miracle, Jesus often commands his followers not to tell anyone what they have witnessed. Perhaps he wanted to minimize unwelcome attention from his enemies.
What appeals to me the most about the Gospel of Mark is that the humanity – the earthiness — of Jesus is emphasized making him seem much more real to me. At his baptism the Spirit descended upon him and a voice from heaven proclaimed: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” (1:11) whereupon the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness to face temptation. Throughout the Gospel he is trying to understand what his calling really means. He shows human emotions. He can be stern (1:43); angry (3:5, 10:14); sad (3:5); loving (10:21) and compassionate (1:41). In the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before he died, he was distressed, agitated and deeply grieved (14:33-34) as he prayed that this hour might pass from him (14:33-42). He is not in control of the events but submits to them in obedience to God’s will; whereas in the later Gospels, especially John, Jesus has an almost other-worldly aspect throughout his ordeal.
Mark is also set apart by the fact that there are no resurrection appearances. The Gospel ends with the empty tomb and the women running away in fear. Mark’s abrupt ending in verse 8, as found in the earliest manuscripts, shifts the burden of understanding to the reader. The fact of the empty tomb itself, does not provide conclusive proof of the Resurrection. We are called to discover for ourselves that the Lord is risen by observing the effects of the Resurrection in our own lives. We must go back to the beginning of the Gospel story to seek the clues from Jesus’ own prophetic words that will point to the mystery of Christ crucified and buried—yet risen and alive.
The symbol for Mark is a lion, the king of beasts, which points to the royal dignity and power of Christ. In the opening verses John the Baptist appears as the voice from the wilderness—a reminder of the lion’s roar.
The author of Mark is commemorated on April 25 of the church calendar with the following prayer:
Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, ones God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 240).
Praise for Circle of Days
Circle of Days is welcoming, inviting, substantive without being heavy. It so clearly takes Scripture seriously. Congratulations on what you are doing here!—The Rev. Jean Denton, author, Good Is the Flesh: Body, Soul, and Christian Faith.
Paula Franck and Isabel Anders have delved into Scripture and lived the Church Year all their lives. Circle of Days invites readers to join them, week by week, as they reflect on the appointed (RCL) Sunday Lessons and the liturgical year. Succinct quotations, thoughtful examination of the Scriptures, and relevant, open-ended questions are presented for each week. Readers will be nourished—and so will the Kingdom of God!—Sr. Elizabeth Mills, St. Mary’s Convent, Sewanee, Tennessee.
The first of three “Primers” on the major themes and texts of the Church Year, Circle of Days Year B invites us into a tapestry of texts for each Sunday; it weaves together key events, symbols, allusions, and opportunities for reflection, as well as solid biblical exegesis in the context of the liturgical seasons. Simply written but profound, the commentaries explain the historical background of each scriptural passage but also interpret its spiritual significance for today’s world. A text that anyone can pray with and learn from, Circle of Days will serve as a great resource for “everyday Christians,” scripture study groups, and for those who proclaim the Word.Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart
Reviewed on Amazon.com
Near the beginning, God created the Lectionary, not exactly in stone, but close to it – including Scripture readings for each Sunday and major feast days of the liturgical year with four passages drawn from the Hebrew Bible, the Psalms, the Epistles attributed to assorted apostles, and the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And lo, though each individual passage was usually clear by itself, sometimes the connections between the readings seemed null and void. So God gave us “collects,” a collection of prayers, for each set of readings, to provide clues to us, the readers and hearers, as to what the connections between passages might be. But, lo, sometimes the collects added more mystery to the mix. And so, in due season, God created my friend Paula Franck, parish educator and retired Canon of Education and Spiritual Formation for the Diocese of Indianapolis, and her friend, Isabel Anders, a writer and editor, to create a handy primer to introduce us to the themes in each set of readings for a whole year of Sundays and major Holy Days. And behold, each set in the primer comes with a quotation which helps set the tone of the themes; a discussion of how those themes as they play out in the texts appointed for that day; and a reflection question based on the themes, suitable for personal journaling or Bible Zoom group discussions. And, for those so bidden, they are also a good place to start preparing to preach or to teach on that day’s lesson. And for good measure, they included an introduction to each season of the church year, identifies the overarching themes for that season. And lo, the volume, covering the upcoming lectionary year became available on Amazon and Kindle last week, in goodly time before the beginning of Year B which starts November 29. And it was good!*
*A word about what this book is and isn’t – it isn’t an in-depth commentary which provides endless discussion of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic words and the findings of Biblical archeologists, cultural anthropologists, and erstwhile historians and theologians. Those commentaries are a dime a dozen (well, not exactly a dime, but you know what I mean!) – for that historical-critical approach see anything authored by Amy Jill Levine, Marcus Borg, or N.T. Wright. No, this is a relatively short, very accessible volume that provides a beginning exploration of the themes — literary, metaphoric, and poetic – of the readings for the year taken at face value and then linked to the life experiences of the reader, hearer, or presenter. They provide a starting point – not an ending one. If you follow the lectionary, do yourself a favor – check it out. This is, I expect, why God invented Goggle and other web explorers!Mary Sicilia
Retired Canon Educator, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Portland, OR