Though our Gospel reading today does not specifically mention St. Mark, I would like to talk about him this morning. Friday was his normal feast day, though it has been translated to tomorrow from Easter week. St. Mark isn’t important enough to hold onto his feast day. The significance is that St. Mark is our patron saint and tomorrow marks the 105th anniversary of the first celebration of the Eucharist in this building.
The Reverend Dr. Nevius reminds me somewhat of St. Mark. He began in Grays and Willapa Harbors establishing small prayer stations and keeping track of the congregants. They often had to wait a long time between visits--up to a year sometimes. Of course, travel wasn’t easy in 1885. It was mostly by small boat back in those days and the travel was fairly rough. There were no Roman roads like St. Mark would have traveled. The land was fairly lawless, too, in comparison to back East. But, like Nevius, St. Mark would have been familiar with travel by water--though those waters were under the control and protection of the Roman Empire. I don’t imagine there was much personal protection here in the wild Northwest.
But, Nevius was well-received and those small groups in this string of wild, new towns formed into larger churches in later years. Just as Nevius stood on the shoulders of the apostles who had evangelized their known world, we stand on the shoulders of the people who pulled together what must have seemed like large sums so they could buy land and build this worship space. I imagine the people who lived in this town and worshipped here to be supportive of one another, building one another up as they waited for their next opportunity to have a priest visit so they could baptize their babies and welcome the newcomer into the fold. There would have been plenty of time for instruction in the Christian life as they waited.
And, St. Mark traveled. Depending upon who St. Mark was: the writer of the first Gospel--perhaps taken from the sermons of Peter, the cousin of Barnabas, or John Mark who is mentioned in Acts- or were all three of these the same person(?). Whoever he was he traveled and helped to evangelize the known world. St. Mark taught people how to live the Christian life.
It is believed that Mark was the person who founded the church in Africa and became the bishop of Alexandria. I feel badly for him in death because his remains seem to be spread around a bit. The Venetians came to Alexandria and stole his body, leaving his head behind. In 1968, Pope Paul VI returned a small piece of bone to Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria--so they have a bit of him back. I know it sounds rather strange to all of us but in the ancient world when the relics were brought out on special feast days there were often miraculous healings. It was important to the people to be able to see the relics and hope for some spiritual experience by being in the same room with them.
Mark went to Alexandria in 49 AD and for some reason was succeeded as bishop there in 62 or 63 AD. The Coptic Church claims he was martyred in 68 AD. I won’t go into the gruesome details of that story.
We know this about Mark; he was one of the 70 sent out by Jesus during his ministry and he stopped following Jesus only to return again. And, tradition tells us that the house depicted in today’s Gospel story--this house with the 11 cowering in a locked room belonged to Mark’s mother. Mark is there in the Gospel stories--the ones he recorded and the ones recorded by others. Our Mark the Evangelist might have been Barnabas’ cousin who stirred up a dispute between Barnabas and Paul causing them to part ways--doubling the territory they covered. Mark seems flaky in his commitment to follow Jesus--yet, he established a faithful church that has lasted through the centuries since. He was committed enough to his church and Jesus to die a martyr’s death as so many of Jesus’ close followers did.
I suspect he was present when Jesus entered the locked room and surprised them all with a flesh and blood body bearing the wounds of his execution. I don’t know if his writing style reflects Peter’s pattern of speech or if he was in some sort of hurry to record the story of Jesus, but I am glad he wrote these stories down for future generations.
We are not sure why this church was named for St. Mark--it began as Holy Trinity--but we do know there was some sort of connection with a family that had immigrated from Evanston, IL where there is still a St. Mark Episcopal Church. The people who established this church were pioneers in a strange and rugged land and many of them were successful after they arrived here.
St. Mark traveled much of his world and I admire him. He is well-loved by many today. And, like St. Mark and his peers in Alexandria, the Coptic Church today is struggling under persecution and political pressure.
I also appreciate all the work and dedication that Reuben Nevius put into establishing these Northwest churches. He must have endured some real hardships to get to these remote towns only to find a handful of congregants at each station. Yet, I imagine he was greeted with great love and appreciation each time he arrived. He was working this area near the end of the 19th century and here we are--still here in the 21st. Imagine-the Coptic Church started in the 1st century and they are still there in Africa in the 21st.
One wonders what the future holds but I feel well-satisfied that each generation has revered those who passed before us: Jesus-first, St. Mark, and The Reverend Dr. Reuben Nevius and all those women’s guild members who worked hard flipping pancakes so they could finance the activities of the church. Let us hope and pray that we can continue this work we have been given to do--to love and serve the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart. We certainly have good examples to follow.