Craft of Preaching

Mark's Gospel and The Small Bird's Immediacy

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Robin
(Creative Commons Image by f.c.franklin on Flickr)


[This article was first published on Jan. 5, 2009.]

Without small birds, the world would be very quiet.

In fact, it would hardly make a sound. In January the northern hemisphere is locked in silence and in a sense, that emptiness in itself is a beauty. And it is beauty of another kind when the birds return, as they might be one of spring’s first markers. Before the green or the buds, before the sky broadens and before the things that live beneath the dirt arc forward hungry for companionship toward the widening light, if one is particularly blessed, while it is still grey, one might hear a robin.

Little birds disappear quickly but without them, life would feel like less. But that is true of many small things; the kind glance of surprising recognition, the passing of the cup, that awkward, familiar stride of the beloved one has come to know through time. Small things, the life of tiny moments, is life that thrusts us beyond the grand routine postures of this world, so pale and stiff, the things that many imagine are of value. It is that motif, that smaller story that runs like a blue vein beneath red skin, the undercurrent of things, which is the most fascinating. These are the stories of this Markan year. These are the stories of silences and frailty. These are the stories of both the courageous and the fearful. And if the stories in Mark are true in any way at all, it is that life -- the one that is buried beneath our gold and crimson vanities -- is overflowing with the vivacity of God.

We, as Christians trust, God is working, both in the texts we are given as preachers, and the world. Though we wait for a rising, there is enough beauty in what is given that we who preach, discover the riches of things hidden. On the surface, Mark seems to hurry through, urgent and masculine; there seems to be nothing in the grey silences of Jesus to confess with any kind of confidence that this One is God. But below and beneath, in the white space of Mark’s story, are questions and doubts and intervals, an opportunity to slow down and let the uncertainty of the story be. To let the smaller song of silence and women and courage and hope emerge, still and ambiguous.

In this year, both in terms of the lectionary and the sky, we are given the biblical stories of the small and the expectant. They weave through Mark to us, a body of faith, a blue thread of hope. A terrifying empty tomb, an unfinished tale, nothing more than a small bird with a story, of which we are still a part. A body of the song that interrupts our lives with miracles and darkness and demons. An urgent promise in itself, yet beneath it, the dark, quiet beauty of what is to come.

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