The Close of the Age

Mark 13

Thousands of years ago, Mayans predicted that the end of the world would happen on December 21, 2012, at the end of the Mayan Calendar. Of course since then the leap year has been invented, meaning that what would have been December 21, 2012 actually happened well over three years ago.

No one knows the day or the hour.

About this time last year, the world watched with patient humor as Harold Camping’s Family Radio International declared that the end of the world. Using math and some bible numbers, it was deduced that May 21, 2011 would be the end. As the day came and went new dates emerged, only to come and go.

No one knows the day or the hour.

Similarly, in 1833 William Miller, a Baptist preacher and early founder of the Adventist religion, predicted that the end of the world would come in 1843.  In 1844, he told his followers that the end would come on October 22nd, 1844. When that day came and went, it was labeled “The Great Disappointment.”  Still people follow his teachings.

No one knows the day or the hour.

In colonial New England, a meeting of state legislatures was plunged into deep darkness by a sudden eclipse, during which many of those present panicked and others moved to adjourn. But one of them said, “Mr. Speaker, if it is not the end of the world and we adjourn, we shall appear to be fools. If it is the end of the world, I should choose to be found doing my duty. I move you, sir, that candles be brought.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)

No one knows the day or the hour.

Martin Luther, certain that the end of the world was at hand, was attributed with this quote: if the world were to end tomorrow, I’d plant a tree today.*  No one knows the day or the hour.

The Apostle Paul, sure he would see Jesus before the end of his life, taught people not to marry, not to worry, for the end was near.

No one knows the day or the hour.

No one knows the day or the hour, Jesus makes that clear. Even so, every generation has thought the end was near.  How could you not when the signs are as clear as the evening news.  We wonder if we have enough food, enough oil, enough water to cover the world’s basic needs.  Then there are the earthquakes, wars, insurrections, and famines.  The conditions are ripe for the picking.  While no one knows the day or the hour, surely, we think, it must be coming soon.

But people try to guess at what Jesus himself could not know. And still predictions and protocols are made for how to make the end come. Stories are sold to save people from the impending danger and doom. Churches wrongfully become juries for judgment, saying who is in an who is out.  More often than not, Jesus’ words are used to scare would be followers into a different way of life and a different kind of faith.  Repent…or perish. Fire…and brimstone.  Believe…or else.

No one knows the day or hour. Not even Jesus. We ought not overlook that Jesus gives these words not to scare us into submission but to give us hope and comfort.  It’s like advice given to expecting mothers: it’s going to hurt, a lot, but it will end and you will have a child.

Or, it’s like wisdom passed on to children: studies might seem dull and difficult, but you will gain knowledge, studying provides building blocks to a brighter future.

Jesus speaks these words not to scare his followers, but words to give us hope and comfort. From underneath an olive tree, Jesus tells his disciples that he will go to the cross. He will die. The world that they knew will come to an end. Jesus speaks these words not to warn us about being left behind, but to assure us that we’ll be right behind…right behind him, the one who has prepared a way for us, the one who will take us to the Father.  We go right behind the one who went the way for us, the way of the cross.

Jesus didn’t know the day or the hour, only that it was coming…and quickly. The end of an age was coming…and quickly.  And somehow…this was good news.  Somehow Jesus offered words of comfort: the Holy Spirit will be with you…the old world will pass away…these are just the birth pangs for a new creation that is about to be born.

When Mark writes his Gospel, when he tells this story, he writes it from the ashes of the Temple in Jerusalem that was finally and forever destroyed, stone left upon stone in the year 70. Mark was writing to those who had witnessed Jesus’s death and resurrection who were at that time witnessing the destruction of the Temple, a destruction that pointed to the end of their world.  Mark is speaking a word of hope, pointing Jesus’ followers right back to Jesus’ words: despite current circumstances, Jesus is with us. Our God is not defeated.  Our God cannot be defeated.

By Mark’s telling, Jesus in Jerusalem is in the middle of his story about the cross. His body is the Temple, the dwelling place of God that will be destroyed, crushed, torn down. A prediction so strong and true that when Jesus breathed his last it is reported that the Temple curtain tore from top to bottom, forever removing the separation between the holy of holies and us.

But Mark’s community knows what we know about Jesus’ body. Though it was destroyed, crushed, torn down…it rose again.

Jesus went to the cross with all of the death, evil, sin and suffering that could be heaped on him. And he didn’t shake it off.  He didn’t escape. He took in all the abuse, all the hatred, all the hurt, and he let it break him, he let it crush him, he let it tear him down. Not because he needed it…but because we needed it. Not to judge us, but to show us mercy.

On the cross we heaped our hurt onto God. And on the cross God took it, God felt it, God did not run away from it. Because God does not run away from us. On the cross we heaped the worst we could on God, calling even for death. And God took it in. But it could not over take God.

The cross shows us that there is nothing in all of creation, in all of everything God has made that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The cross shows us that on Easter we do not celebrate a little thing. We celebrate, we remember, we confess that the love of God wins. That God cannot be turned away by our hatred, abuse or scorn. That just as God transformed death to life, God is also at work transforming our world into the kingdom.

But why does sin, death, suffering and evil remain? I don’t know. I wish they didn’t. I believe they just won’t last though. Because God is bringing about the kingdom and God is bringing the world back home.  But it’s going to be a little painful, there will be birth pangs. Some of the work we are called to do might seem dull and difficult. But we are part of God’s building blocks for the kingdom; we are part of what God is up to in bringing about a new creation.

So while death, sin, suffering and evil still have a say in our lives, they do not have the final word. God does.  God will put an end to that which is not worthy of the kingdom of God. God will come with judgment.  But again this judgment is a word of hope and comfort. The purpose of judgment is mercy.  The purpose of judgment is for those things that hurt, destroy, crush, maim, abuse and scorn us–just as they scorned, abused, maimed, crushed, destroyed and hurt Christ–those things will come to an end, for they have no power over God. And in judgment, we know that we are wrapped in Christ.

So we pray:

Come, Lord Jesus…put an end to death

Come, Lord Jesus…put an end to war and violence

Come, Lord Jesus…put an end to abuse

Come, Lord Jesus…fill the hungry with good food

Come, Lord Jesus…reconcile our long hatreds

Come, Lord Jesus…bring life where there is death

______

*Like Washington and the cherry tree, this quote isn’t verifiably Luther’s. But I still like it.

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