War is over.
I wasn’t alive when Winston Churchill announced the end war in Europe or VE Day. I can imagine the sense of relief and the eruption of celebration that must have marked it after the dark years of fear and mourning. The mood in the country must have been transformed almost instantly. This would have been in quite stark contrast to the announcements made after more historic conflicts ceased in the days before TV or radio which allowed the good news to be conveyed instantly. Then news would have been passed on by word of mouth, passed from one community to the next, one family to another.
In the times of the Roman Empire, news of victory and the resultant peace would have been passed on by a runner, sprinting from the battlefield to tell the commanders waiting anxiously. Perhaps the best known ‘example’ is the legend behind the adoption of the length of the current marathon race. The first modern marathon was just under 25 miles as this was the distance that Pheidippides ran from the battlefield near Marathon, Greece, to Athens in 490 B.C. to announce the defeat of the Persians to anxious Athenians. The story goes that his message was a breathless ‘Niki!’ after which he collapsed and died. Good news for his hearers perhaps, but not quite so good news for him.
This announcement the good news of a triumph in battle is the context which gave Matthew, Mark, Luke and John their name, Gospel, literally good-news. This was the name given to these breathless announcements of victory. Although in many ways they read like biographies, this is not their genre, rather they are the delivery of the news that the war is over, victory has been achieved and peace is won; as Mark opens his writing,
‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (Mark 1:1).
Mark’s breathless message (and yes, his gospel is so action packed, although he didn’t run to deliver it, it does feel breathless!) is the announcement that God’s chosen King, his promised Messiah, Jesus, is victorious and has begun to reign.
There is something paradoxical about Mark’s declaration of victory. After the opening chapters where Jesus strides across Palestine performing miracles and delivering great teaching, his journey seems anything but victorious. The opposition grows. Ridicule turns to persecution which turns to arrest and trial. Finally, he hangs from a crossed, nailed there by religious and political forces. This seems to be anything but victorious. How does this achieve peace? This is the paradox of Good Friday, how can Good Friday be called good when there appears to be nothing good about it? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Mk. 15:34), the death cries of the Christ is hardly gospel is it…
But after Good Friday comes Easter Sunday. Rather than a stone sealed coffin we find an empty tomb and the words of a young man dressed in white,
‘He is risen! He is not here.’ (Mk. 16:6)
An abrupt finish which leaves them bewildered and wondering what has happened. Could the murder of the Messiah have been turned around to be something astonishingly wonderful? The disciples rush away to tell others, to announce breathlessly the good news, the gospel, Jesus has risen from the dead! Victory has been won! Peace has been achieved!
Church Newsletter Article, 01.03.18