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Mark 3:7-12 (NRSV)
A Multitude at the Lakeside
Jesus departed with his disciples to the lake, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.
Today we celebrate the Feast of St Agnes. It is also the fourth day in the week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is so sad that with 2,000 years to perfect ourselves, there are still arguments about denominations and even within denominations. If ever there was a time for prayer for unity then it is now. As a schoolboy, one of the books we studied for English Literature was ‘Lord of the Flies’. In 1963 a film was made of the story, very true to the book and last weekend I had a chance to watch it again. A group of young boys find themselves marooned on an island after a plane crash and quickly descend into savages, with rival factions fighting each other rather than all working together. The ‘Lord of the Flies’ is a pig’s head, sacrificed to an imagined ‘beast’ stalking the island.
Word has spread about the healings that Jesus had done and now wherever he goes a large crowd follows. They recognised him as special and they clamoured to hear him or to be healed; he was their saviour. Once again Jesus gives a very fierce command not to say anything, this time to the unclean spirits who have recognised him. But again he is forced to flee the crowds, this time calling for a boat to escape them.
Left again to our own devices, over the course of 2,000 years, man (and it has mostly been the work of men), man has created different denominations of Christianity when the rules of others did not suit them. Man has created priests and bishops and rituals and rules and regulations that so often come between us and God. Man has created divisions and factions that fight against each other. Is that why Jesus came to us? Is that what being a follower of Jesus means? Is that what it means to be a Christian?
Agnes was a young girl of 12 or 13 who lived around the 300s. She refused to consider marriage, instead devoting herself to God. But as persecution broke out she resisted and was martyred in Rome.
Agnes lived for just one thing. In the Lord of the Flies it is symbolic that the boys, at the height of their frenzy, are rescued by Navy men, dressed all in white. Who is coming to rescue us? Will we be able to save us from ourselves? Could we show the strength and resolve that a thirteen-year-old girl clung to in ancient Rome?
So we pray:
Prayer for St Agnes
Almighty, eternal God, you choose the weak of the world to put the strong to shame. In your mercy grant that as we celebrate the birthday of your martyr Saint Agnes, we may also imitate her perseverance in faith. This we ask of you. Amen.