The courtyard filled gradually as the members of The Way began to arrive. Some of the older members immediately sought out Mark and greeted him warmly. Others seemed uncomfortable after their initial greeting, not quite knowing what to say to this man whose community had endured so much pain and suffering in the not too distant past. Some of the younger members hung back, knowing this man had traveled with Peter and with Paul. Many were talking in small groups, turning every now and then to look at Mark, but looking away quickly before Mark could make eye contact. His mother stood beside him, her arm through his, soaking up the joy she felt at her oldest son’s presence with her beloved ecclesia.
When it seemed most people had arrived, servants began bringing out food, assisted by Simeon and a couple of the elders among the community. They placed the bowls on the mats that made a rough square in the center of the courtyard. As people began to recline around the perimeter, the servants brought out pitchers of wine, before joining the others to dine. Mark noticed a couple of young men’s brows furrow, apparently in disapproval at the thought of breaking bread with those who had served them. Mark smiled, remembering some other young men who also took a long time to understand what Jesus had both taught and modeled to them.
When everyone was settled, their cups filled, Simeon rose to speak. “Grace to you and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” He turned to Mark. “We welcome home a beloved son and friend, who has risked much to join us here, and whose presence we have sorely missed. Yohanan Marcus, would you ask the blessing for us this evening?” All eyes fell on Mark as a basket of loaves was passed to him. Taking a loaf, he looked up toward the heavens, blessed it, broke it and said, “This is the body of our Lord, which is for you.” He lifted his cup. “And this is the cup of the new covenant in Jesus’ blood.” Holding the loaf and the cup before him, his voice rang through the courtyard. “As we eat this bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” He passed the basket, plates were filled and the hum of low conversation filled the courtyard as the ecclesia broke bread together.
After the meal, Simeon got to his feet to address the gathering, his features shifting in the flickering light from the oil lamps. “As you know, I have been writing to Johanan over the years with news of our community and the challenges we face as members of the Way. As well as his letters, he also sent a copy of the tract he wrote for the members of the Way in Rome, which we have been reading together for some time. For those of you who have joined us only recently,” he said, gesturing to some young men leaning against one of the olive trees, “you have only heard some of the Gospel that Yohanan has gifted us with.” He turned to Mark. “With the lull in the fighting here in the city, I had dared to hope that you might come to us. And now, here you are. Will you bring us news of our brothers and sisters in Rome? And can you stay,” he continued, giving Mark a brief, pleading look, “to instruct us?”
Mark smiled at his old friend as he rose from his mother’s side, and indicated that Simeon should take a seat. He slowly pivoted on his heels to take in each and every face turned toward him before speaking. “I thank you for your gracious welcome, my friends. I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters in Rome, who pray for you daily, that you might know the love of God, that you might be strengthened in the time of trial, and that you might remain faithful to your Lord and to the Way of the cross. I have wanted to come to you for a long time, and it has finally seemed good to the Holy Spirit that I might do so now. The eyes of our oppressors in Rome have turned away from us amid the struggle to secure the imperial throne. And with the relative peace that Simon bar Giora has brought to the streets of Jerusalem, I received the blessing of the Way to come to you. To bring you greetings, to encourage you, and – yes, Simeon – to instruct you, as long as the Lord sees fit to grant us the peace to do so.” Mark gestured in the direction of the Kidron Valley, where Vespasian’s legions were encamped. “For surely Rome will once more turn her attention to the city before long. And when she does, members of the Way, will you take up your cross or your sword?”
“The sword!” The cry startled Mark, as it came from one of the young men who now stood up, pushing himself off of the olive tree he had been leaning against. One of his companions reached up, grabbing his arm to pull him back down, but the young man shrugged his hand off. “I was with Simon the day he ambushed Cestius Gallus, and we killed 500 of them. I lived on the run with him, like David of old in the Cave of Adullam. But now he leads 15,000, and will lead the whole of Jerusalem – every faithful Jew – in the final battle with Rome.” His eyes shone as he spoke fervently. “For blessed is the coming kingdom of our father, David!”
A shocked silence greeted his words. Mark spoke gently into the silence. “My friend, how is that you come to be here with us this evening?” The young man laid his hand on the shoulder of his companion. “My friend here has been asking me to break bread with this ‘Way’ of his, and I have accompanied him these last few times. He has told me much of this Yeshua, and I confess I am curious about the fellowship,” at this he swept his arm around the assembly, “that has cost him his family.” He turned back to Mark. “He told me that one who had walked the hills of my beloved Galilee in the company of this Yeshua would be here tonight, and so I came.” His voice suddenly hardened. “But I do not follow your dead rabbi. I follow Simon bar Giora.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Am I still welcome here?”
As Mark examined the young man’s face, he recognized the look of defiance he saw there. It was a look he had seen in his youngest brother Daniel’s face so many times. A look, he imagined, he would still see if he saw him today. A look that was often to be found on his own face as a young man, before he went into the wilderness and heard John speak. He smiled at the memory before addressing the young man before him. “I see no reason why you should not be welcome among us,” he said. “And if you would hear more of the One whom we follow and call Lord, then you are indeed most welcome.” The young man considered Mark’s expression for a moment, and apparently found whatever it was he was looking for. He nodded curtly and sat down. “Perhaps,” Mark said, “it would be appropriate to begin at the beginning. The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God…”