I am sure that this isn’t the first time that I have mentioned Chariots of Fire as my all time favourite film. It is about the small group of young men and women who, still in the shadow of the Great War, form the British team for the Paris Olympics. One of the characters is a Scot, a runner of huge courage, the son of a missionary and also himself a minister. In one scene he has won a race at an athletics meeting in an industrial town. The rain is pouring down and he is addressing the crowd likening the running of a race to the Christian journey and pointing to the source of energy being within. He quotes St Matthew, ‘The Kingdom of God is within’. It is many years since the first time I saw the film and this phrase has stuck with me.
Just before Christmas, I happened upon a short book by former Archbishop Rowan Williams entitled ‘Meeting God in Mark’. I didn’t buy it straight away, but it kept beckoning and so eventually I relented. What a good decision. I always used to think of Rowan Williams as far too clever for me, all long words and deep theology. This book, and actually quite a few others, is definitely not. It is lucid and compelling.
It is of course about St Mark’s gospel, the shortest and the earliest of the four in the Bible. Its central thesis is built round the same idea as my Chariots of Fire runner, that God is not some magician ‘out there’, rather He is within us, most particularly within Jesus. Williams argues that St Mark challenges us to place trust not in a God who is powerful as some men are powerful, but as a powerless God found in the abandoned Jesus. He stresses that this is both hard to grasp and hard for Jesus to explain and Mark to write. It is why that, so often in St Mark’s gospel, the disciples fail to grasp what is being said. It doesn’t make sense in earthly terms. It is a wholly new way of thinking.
Possibly one of the most powerful points that Williams makes is that Mark may well have written what St Peter remembered of Jesus. This is powerful when we recall how often Peter failed to grasp what Jesus was saying, failed to see the new way and, crucially, failed to admit to knowing Jesus just at the point when Jesus was most powerless, and so most Godly.
It is hard. I most certainly fail to do it justice, so I encourage you to read Rowan Williams for yourself, although, even then as he himself acknowledges, as soon as you think you have grasped it, you too will flounder. So back to St Mark himself, not once or twice, but many times to nudge us closer to St Mark’s life changing realisation.