Mark my words - all together

Published: 3rd December 2023

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
 so that the mountains would quake at your presence. (Isaiah 64.1)

This is how we start a new church year. On the first Sunday of Advent, Isaiah’s words rip through the air and his prophecy will continue to thunder around us Sunday by Sunday. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus cries ‘Keep Awake!’ and we hear his passion for this world to flourish and for his followers to take their place on the side of hope.

These cries of hope and determination are set against feelings of anguish and frustration. Surely this year, after months of praying for places of conflict, we recognise that anguish and hope. Perhaps scripture never feels more powerful than in Advent.

The world – and even the church - seem bent on division and conflict. The power and simplicity of scripture can give us strength, purpose and even unity.

I am so lucky to be employed by the diocese to help parishes think about their next steps. I’m advocating several ‘next steps’ at the moment. One of them is for churches to come together to read the gospel of Mark (the main gospel set for Sunday readings through this year) aloud in one setting. It’s simple, humble activity, yet a bold one.

The experience of hearing a whole gospel read aloud can be transformative. It’s very different from hearing it week by week, or reading it alone to yourself. We notice the power and awe of the overall story. We notice how the individual stories are framed in the a much bigger story. We understand how the parts we often hear fall into a particular sequence. We feel the ebb and flow of the story, the shifts of gear, and we imagine the disciples’ experience much more easily. We notice the distinctiveness of the particular gospel we’re listening to. And some parts of the story – perhaps especially some of the apocalyptic teaching – make more sense in their context.

Hearing scripture together is also an act of unity. Whatever your church tradition or theological conviction, any Christian can sit alongside any other Christian to hear the gospel read aloud. If we hope for unity, this is an activity to bring us together in our diversity.

Reading the whole Gospel, perhaps at the start of the year, or in Holy Week, can help frame all the weeks that follow. It can help both preachers and congregations. Understanding the big story helps understand all the individual stories it contains.

Could your church organise a reading of the gospel? Could you work with others around to do this? Who could that be good news for? Local schools and their parents? Ecumenical efforts? Or simply the discipleship of your own church community?

The gospels were written as whole stories to be heard. Let us receive them in that way, and encounter their power afresh!

Revd Simon Foster leads the Mission team for Lichfield Diocese which works with schools, parishes, fresh expressions, chaplaincies and the cathedral, to energise, resource and support them in mission and evangelism – looking out to and for our communities.

Contact Simon at or see the team’s web pages at

Page last updated: Monday 29th January 2024 9:39 AM
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