This time through I find myself wondering why these words from Mark’s ‘little apocalypse’ do not strike stir up the same kind of terror or at least discomfort in me as they once did.
For while I know that what I have seen and heard and experienced until now is but a glimpse of of all that Jesus intends us to take from his words today, even these small insights somehow carry me beyond images of destruction, and able to also hear the promise of wholeness restored. Perhaps the sort of wholeness which is finally only possible once everything else falls apart.
- Indeed, as I stand alongside those disciples now looking up at the large stones which comprised the temple then.
- As I listen as Jesus bluntly states what lies in that temple’s too near future,
- As I consider what that means for those who loved that holy place…
I find myself wondering if perhaps you, like I, cannot help but think of what we have experienced these last few years.
For at least where I live, while the bricks and mortar of places of worship may still stand, there was a long stretch of time when no one went into them at all, and only then to be sure nothing needed tending. No, for long months on end we did not enter for the purposes which we had so long taken for granted.
- The organ stood silent.
- Cobwebs gathered under the pews.
- The memories of the voices of one another began to fade.
- The communion ware stayed stored in cabinets unused for months on end…
Indeed, more than once during that time and even since I have heard it muttered, ‘Why do we even have a building when it is not being used as it once was?’
No, the ‘stones’ were not thrown down, but at times it surely seemed as though they might as well have been.
It strikes me now, though, that perhaps it took something of this magnitude for me from my place of profound privilege to begin to get a glimpse not only of the struggle but also the promise waiting on the other side of what Jesus describes today. Because standing where I do today, I am grateful to have experienced the deep certainty that the building could stand empty, yes, perhaps even be destroyed, but the faith we hold and which holds us would endure. Because it did. It does.
And yes, even as I offer this, I know that there are those, as there always are, who are deeper into this narrative than I have yet been called and likely will ever know first hand.
- Indeed, I think now of nurses I know who have witnessed far, far too much death in this last season. Even as I stand alongside and pray with them, for them, all I am is witness to all they have lost, some of which they can hardly yet name.
- And yes, I know ever more deeply that all of that is spoken of here sounds like a whole lot more promise than threat to those alongside we live who have never, ever been served by what, by what has been. This is not (yet) my experience, but even so of late I have at least a little wider window into a world that just does not work for so many.
Indeed, if this life has always been a struggle, and for far too many this is so, why would you possibly care if the ‘stones were all thrown down?’
Indeed, maybe such as this is the only way forward in possibly making room for something new!
I know this is not so for all of you, although I guess it is for many, that those among whom we preach and teach this week are among those whose hearts quake a bit to hear the striking words Jesus speaks today. Because most of us, much of the time, probably do feel as though we have a lot to protect in all that has been, in all that we have had. Indeed, for many if not most of us, we have not been chased by war, or been struck down by natural disaster, or known the hunger that comes from not being able to gain access to what we need to eat, all of which are pointed to in Jesus’ words today.
- Even so, I wonder if this last stretch of time may have given us some understanding we could not have had before, if only through the really very limited ways our lives were impacted.
- Indeed, I do wonder if by allowing ourselves to go deep into what has happened to us, if this might not just build a deeper empathy in us for the worlds that our neighbors too often inhabit which are too much not reflective of all that God intends. And I wonder if now we might be more able to recognize them, to call them by name, to stand still as best we can in the experience they hold which is so different from our own.
- And yes, I wonder if all of this might not also help us hear these words today as ones not only of terror, but also as ones of promise, even as we begin to experience worlds we have always taken for granted perhaps collapsing around us, ‘with all the stones being thrown down…’
Precisely how that preaches where you live and serve I cannot know. So for now I would simply offer some possible ways into these words from Mark as you move towards sharing the good news this weekend. Know that the place from which I serve is one of profound privilege, and no doubt these options reflect that:
- Consider spending time with someone you know who has been ‘chased by war itself.’ Maybe it is a refugee family. Perhaps it is someone who moved into your community seeking a safer place for their children to grow up. Sit down with a veteran. Or spend an hour with a nurse who has now seen more death than he or she ever imagined they would. Any and all of these and more may well offer a window into promises kept when all else falls apart. Each and every one of these may well be able to speak to faith that sustains and holds even beyond their, beyond our, imagining.
- As you may know, I have spent considerable time and energy in the last couple of years trying to understand the history of race in this country. I have learned a lot and yet, every day I discover how much more there is to learn. Over the last several weeks, the group I convene has been reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. My goodness. Perhaps more than ever I have at least a small sense of the experience of our neighbors who have been victims of the ‘war on drugs’ in a way I never thought to imagine. Indeed, I have deeply begun to confront my own complicity in all of this as I have not seen or have chosen not to see so very much. And I find myself understanding a little more deeply how it is that so many are not invested in a political or social system which has always, always held them down or beaten them back, regardless of where one places oneself on the political spectrum. Perhaps that book or another would take you there. Or better than this, maybe a conversation with someone you know who may not look like you who has seen the effects of this first hand would give you a sense of those who hear promise in this week’s Gospel.
- Consider all you have seen and heard and experienced over the last couple of years. Do you in any way have a deeper sense of the ‘stones being thrown down’ than you had before? What has this meant in your faith community? What has this meant for you? Are you at a place yet where you can hear the undercurrents of hope in Mark 13? How might that preach?
I have never found this an easy text to preach, and yet I wonder now if you and I may just have more to bring to this than ever before. Indeed, these are times which are unlike any I have lived and served in before. And so with you I wonder:
- What might God be inviting us, even providing for us, to bring to this time?
- And how might these words preach in new ways even as ‘the stones are thrown down’ or maybe even because ‘the stones are thrown down?’
- How do you hear Jesus’ familiar words today? In this hearing at this time and place are they ones of terror or ones of promise or both?