Word from Wormingford
Posted: 02 May 2012 @ 00:00
Ronald Blythe reflects on a New Testament page-turner
AND the rain it raineth every day. The white cat is writing to the RSPCA to complain about my cruelty at allowing this to happen. To have to be dried out on a radiator every morning. It is intolerable. But the horses are animated by the mighty showers, and careen over the hill, their happy sloping bodies showering the grass. Sepia skies are streaked with gold. Things are coming up in the beds with all their might. One might be in Wales.
On Sunday, I preached on St Mark, a fast favourite. What style! His Gospel is brief and brilliant. He is the Ezekiel of the New Testament, youthful and charismatic, addressing the universe. His symbol is borrowed from Ezekiel’s winged lion, the noise of whose wings was like a great torrent, or cloudburst.
Ezekiel said, having to explain himself, one supposes: “A spirit lifted me up and carried me along, and I went full of exultation, the hand of the Lord strong upon me.” Mark, too, is a winged intellect who knows how to keep the pages turning. His Gospel contains no nativity, no holy boyhood, but opens with a shout: “Prepare a way for the Lord!”
It is only in Mark that we have the parable of the sower, and a command to stay awake. He is a broadcaster — a word for throwing seed this way and that in springtime. He knows a lot about waste, hazard, and survival. Its agricultural imagery, for the first time in 2000 years, falls short of familiarity these days.
Who was Mark? As the cousin of Barnabas, he was probably from Cyprus. Paul took him on those long walks into Asia Minor. He and Timothy. Paul is old, battered, and near to death. He tells his young friends that it is their turn to pursue integrity, love, and peace, because “I have run the great race, have finished the course, and the prize awaits me.”
My favourite Pauline instruction is when he tells Timothy to “Pick up Mark, and bring him with you, for I find him a useful assistant. . . When you come, bring the cloak I left with Carpus, and the books; above all, my notebooks.”
Like Mark’s Gospel, John Keats’s poem “The Eve of St Mark” is unfinished. Not concluded. But it might have been written at this moment.
The city streets were clean and fair
From wholesome drench of April rains;
And, on the western window panes,
The chilly sunset faintly told
Of unmatur’d green vallies cold. . .
A girl closes an old book, and walks to evensong in Winchester Cathedral, her head full of puzzling thoughts about its “legend pages”. Curious and beautiful things sparkle on it, such as the
Candlesticks John saw in heaven,
The winged Lion of Saint Mark,
And the Covenantal Ark
With its many mysteries,
Cherubim and golden mice.