A Liturgical Reading Of Saint Mark's Gospel
What does it mean to assert that Scripture is, first, a liturgical text: and not a catalog of doctrines as it is so often conceived of? It means that the Gospels were written for the church, to be read by the church, to the church, in the church. It means that the Gospels are not only information about our Lord's earthly mission, and the world's salvation -- they certainly are that! But accounts that are ordered and constructed in such a way as to provide the content of Christian worship.
To this end I present Sunday's gospel as I imagine it may have been employed when the ink first dried, shortly after Pentecost (in my thinking). It may have been read aloud in the temple courts, a synagogue, or some other space designated for the Eucharistic worship of God, by the baptized.
In my imagined scenario the first three verses are spoken or chanted as Versicle and Response: which is one of the oldest formats of both Jewish and Christian worship. Think of the Psalms; and of the poetic portions of the Old Testament, which I propose are not poetry at all, but out and out liturgy. They are easily divided into versicle and responses, and that suggests formal worship to me.
Who were the first Christian celebrants if not the apostles themselves? Let us imagine, then, an apostle leading God's people in worship "very early on the first day of the week". The format may have been between apostle and worshipers, or spoken antiphonally between clergy and choir. There are other possibilities. But for our purposes let us imagine clergy and worshipers.
V: Here begins the Gospel concerning Jesus Christ the Son of God.
R: As it stands written in Isaiah the Prophet.
V: Behold, I am sending my angel before you
R: to prepare your way.
V: a voice thunders in the wilderness,
R: "prepare the way of the Lord,
ALL: make his paths straight"
The Clergy Now Read:
4 Then came John baptizing in the wilderness, and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea, and all those from Jerusalem went to him; and were baptized by him in the River Jordan, and confessed their sins.
6 Now John appeared, dressed in camel's hair, wearing a belt of leather around his waiste, and eating locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message, "The One who is greater than I, is coming after me; the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. I baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately upon emerging from the water, he saw heaven torn open, and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am delighted."
In such a proposed pattern of worship antiphonal speech, and the reading of the narrative of salvation, that is the Gospel, were central. For the Gospel was, and still is, the living voice of Jesus among us. The voice of him who says, "There am I in the midst of them." The church should take this saying of the Lord in its most literal sense.
More could be said, but let this suffice for now. Your comments are welcome.
More in Pastor's Blog
December 17, 2017The History Theology And Practice Of Christian Worship - Part 7
December 17, 2017The History Theology And Practice Of Christian Worship - Part 6
December 16, 2017Next Christmas