Authority and Liberation
In the Anglican (and Roman Catholic) calendar today is Candlemas, or the Presentation of the Lord at the Temple. In the northern hemisphere this ancient festival marks the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox. The Christmas season once lasted for forty days - until the second day of February, and Candlemas marked the end of that season. The name Candlemas comes from the tradition that all the candles that were to be used in the church during the coming year were brought into church and blessed. So it was the Festival Day (or 'mass') of the Candles.
Candles were very important as the main means of providing light. They were also thought to give protection against plague and illness and famine. For Christians, they were (and still are) a reminder that Christ is ‘The light of the World' - and candles are lit during church services to remind us of this.
However we are going to follow the more Protestant RCL lectionary readings for the Gospel. You will need to read Luke for yourself at home. We will continue to listen to the beginning of the Gospel of Mark. Beginnings are important as they set the tone and themes. In today’s passage two of the big themes for Mark are further introduced, the themes of liberation and authority.
Mark’s gospel is all about establishing Jesus’ authority as coming from God, and so being utterly different from the authority of others. And Mark carefully sets out Jesus’ mission to be bringing about God’s liberation for all people. While Mark is clear that this liberation reaches back to and fulfils the ancient hopes of the people of Israel, it also breaks with those hopes and, Mark says, changes everything and affects everyone.
Matt Skinner says, “Mark depicts Jesus as the one uniquely authorized, commissioned, or empowered to declare and institute the reign of God. Through Jesus, then, we glimpse characteristics of this reign. It is intrusive, breaking old boundaries that benefited another kind of rule. It is about liberating people from the powers that afflict them and keep all creation -- including human bodies and human societies -- from flourishing. It is about articulating God’s intentions for the world, defying or reconfiguring some traditions to do so, if need be.” He goes on to ask, “What do these stories mean for those who don’t share the worldviews of the gospels, where it comes to understanding what makes human existence perilous, where illnesses come from, and what it means to acknowledge that some powerful forces -- whether we consider these forces essentially spiritual, sociological, anthropological, habitual, political, biological, climatological, or not even capable of being so neatly divided into such categories -- appear to remain stubbornly beyond our ability to control? At minimum, this passage provokes us to stop assuming that “the way things are” must always equal “the way things have to be.” The reign of God promises more, whether the “more” can be realized now or in a far-off future.
May Christ the Light illuminate our understanding as we continue to explore these two themes as we read the rest of mark over the coming year?