Apocalypse When?!

King of What?!
November 24, 2023
No Spare People in the World!
December 6, 2023
King of What?!
November 24, 2023
No Spare People in the World!
December 6, 2023

Apocalyptic warnings in the Bible usually appear when people are afraid.  Beneath the fear are stories of hurt and distress, for such fierce warnings are always given to address a threatened, marginal community. 

It is believed Mark wrote his Gospel, around the late 60s and 70s CE.  Mark was likely writing during the terrible times of Israel’s revolt against Rome and its ensuing recapture and the punishing sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of most of its temple by the Roman legions.  This military defeat and the sight of the destroyed temple and the evisceration of most of the Jewish traditions would have been dreadful. 

We can see and hear all of Mark as a story of God’s people living with pain, excruciating loss and haunting trauma.  Chapter 13 is called the little apocalypse and contains Jesus’ farewell instructions for his disciples.  Jesus in this context, has been preparing them for an uncertain future.  Over and over, Jesus refers to what life will be like ‘in those days’ (13:17, 19, 20, 24).  As we listen to Mark’s Jesus, we can begin to put ourselves into their shoes, be aware of those who are on the margins, beginning with Mark’s own community.  This was a dreadful era in Jewish history.  Poverty was increasing, especially among Jews, many were becoming destitute and violence abounded during the revolt as crosses lined the highways from Rome to Jerusalem.

All kinds of pain are described in the Gospel.  Do you remember the Gerasene demoniac who smashes himself with stones (5:5); the woman with the unending haemorrhaging of her blood, (5:25), but Jesus reminds us repeatedly, his call is for us to pick up our cross and follow him – even to the cross and death. (8:34-35).  Mark’s Jesus himself dies shouting at God (15:34).  His resurrection is not proclaimed in the short ending of Mark’s Gospel and throughout this apocalyptic piece of Mark’s Gospel Jesus is appealing to us to pay attention, to wait, not to be idle, instead to prepare and be ready.  Its worth remembering none of the communities at the time this Gospel was thought to be written, would have seen themselves as ‘Christian’.  They simply identified as belonging to the devastated traditions of Israel. 

However, if we are so busy caught up in the story of violence, destruction, pain and grief, the endings and horror we will not see the signs as Jesus tells them.  We will forget to be focussed on what is hopeful and loving.  We will forget to give God space and trust and hope.  We will start to follow false prophets as we give into despair.  As disciples we are not simply expected to wait passively for the destination, the end times, but also to be aware of what we are doing and what is happening now. 

I read a story about a woman called Nelle Morton, born in the early 20th century in east Tennessee.  She was 15 years old when women were given the vote; 49 years old when the US Supreme Court declared school segregation to be unequal and unjust; and 60 years old when her denomination, the Presbyterian Church in the US ordained its first clergywoman.  She was the first female tenured faculty member and the only one for a long time, at the Theological School of Drew University in New Jersey where she taught Christian education.  She worked for the rights of women and had her work published.  One of her books was called ‘The Journey is Home’.  The point of this story which Nelle Morton wrote, is not that we will eventually arrive somewhere and the journey will be done, but, the fact that at this point in time, the journey is our home.   These are the times in which we live.  This is what Jesus is telling us and I think it applies to us.

While we might yearn for the Lord to come now, to put an end to the violence between Israel and Hamas, between Russia and Ukraine, between different armies in Sudan, between the government and its people in Myanmar and with all the other conflicts in the world, we might be hoping for a cure for an illness of a loved one, for affordable housing for another, for an end to violence in our own homes, an end to the climate wars and a restoration of climate balance, and all sorts of things for which we pray, but we are told very clearly, only God knows when God is coming again.  Only God knows, not human beings, not predictions, not apocalyptic prophets who are false, not horoscopes, only God.  Only God knows. 

As we come to the end of this reading, we are reminded Mark is also speaking about absence.  In the absence there is also presence.  Without Jesus physically present, the servants go about the business of their Lord.  In Christ’s absence we do Christ’s work of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, working for peace, ending family, domestic and gender-based violence and discrimination. We work for justice.  We are entrusted now with this work to do, and we live each day accountable and thankful to God who has given us life for this purpose, to share God’s love with everyone in every place and time.  We light a candle on the darkened path, so others who follow may find their way home.  We build homes and churches where strangers can be welcomed along with friends, finding safety and nourishment for the body and spirit. 

So, we keep awake, we keep alert, Jesus tells us to do this repeatedly, because we don’t know when the time will come.  We don’t know, and not knowing shouldn’t distract us or make us feel hopeless.  Our work is to be vigilant against the despair of violence, desolation, denial, depression, anxiety and apparent inevitability.   The poetry and imagery of the apocalyptic language is designed to open up possibilities for us, rather than limit them.  It allows God to go ahead of us, sowing the signs of hope rather than despair.

Wakefulness rather than denial or flights of fancy or stories of unending disaster is what we are about.  We are a hope-filled, alert and awake people ready for God.  Wakefulness is the mark of faith and hope.

In this First Sunday of Advent, may the signs of God all around us, give you hope and may Jesus show you what to do as we wait.  Let us wait together.

The Lord be with you.

Reference

Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E.  2014.  Feasting on the Gospels Mark.  Westminster John Knox Press.  USA.

Morton, N. 1985.  The Journey is Home.  Beacon, Boston, USA.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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