St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church
Diocese of New Westminster
Anglican Church of Canada
Wednesday 7:00 pm
November 18th Advent 2, 2018 John Marsh
1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-20; Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25; Mark 13:1-8
As we have heard the beginning of Mark 13, let’s get a sense of the rest of the chapter…
‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils…and you will be beaten… and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry about what you are to say for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved…For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation… And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert… [For] then [you] will see [the human one¹] coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven… ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come...And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’ (Mark 13:9, 19a, 21-23a, 2 6-27, 32-33, 37)
I suspect that many don’t understand such a text, others won’t want to.
For myself, I believe that little of Mark 13 - the ‘Little Apocalypse’ – was said by Jesus.
An alternative reading of Mark 13 argues that the chapter is not the words of Jesus, but the words of a community enlivened by the active memory of Jesus; the words of a faith community coming to terms with the unthinkable – betrayal, the destruction of the Temple and the devastation of the holy city Jerusalem…
Mark 13 is not prophetic fortune telling; it is faith fathoming, or at least attempting to fathom, the experience of devastation and the shattering of ancient dreams…
Mark 13 is hope struggling to make sense of endings, to make sense of destruction, eschatological hope dancing with despair and yearning for impossible possibilities to arise.
Historically, apocalyptic expression in Judea grew more frequent as Roman power over the Jewish people grew more complete. Apocalyptic expression is required whenever ‘Caesar’ is too strong.²
In general, apocalyptic literature is raw - its language is florid, its metaphors and symbols are graphic, its style is shaped by trauma; at times it pushes the boundaries of politically correct expression.
Apocalyptic expression is faith processing the traumatic; it is faith acknowledging endings without giving in to ‘the end’ – personally, textually or relationally.
It acknowledges endings yet seeks new possibilities, new beginnings, new life…
The worst response to apocalyptic writing is to literalize the text, to fix its meaning, to treat it as programmatic, to render it as absolute.
In so doing, apocalyptic fluidity is frozen and turned into a termination text; it is ‘bent’ to serve that lurid fascination with violence.³
Apocalyptic expression, when fluid, is about a tentative purpose perhaps emerging from within endings, about possibilities ‘re/forming’ within destroyed definitions; it is about a faith on impossible possibilities, a hope in emergence, perhaps emergence of transformation within life – transformation of the debris, of trauma into the new hopes of a new heaven and a new earth…
It is the reign of god confronting endings without giving us the ‘Final Solution’⁴…
Apocalyptic expression proclaims that endings, perhaps, just perhaps, as real as they are, may not be the final story; in the chaos of pain, suffering and profound dislocation perhaps something may be lurking, luring…
Apocalyptic expression is shaped by the im/possibility of the reign of god emerging on the edges of despair, welling up impossible possibilities birthed by tears and lament…
Mark 13 is an expression of eschatological hope singing an apocalyptic lament – a blues riff fermenting new life…
Mark 13 is the imaginative encounter of the Human One with a community blinking in the light of a new day after struggling with the devastation of betrayal, arrest and death, after ‘wars and rumors of war’, after the desecration of the Holy City⁵…
Mark 13 proclaims that, despite loss, perhaps, just perhaps, spirit speaks, calls, invites – so we hope and pray; despite the mess created by the ‘powers and principalities’ the Human One is – hopefully, maybe - ‘coming in clouds’ – so raise your eyes and look around because the reign of god is perhaps in your midst.
I have a hunch that those whose lives have been directly impacted by climatic, political, social or economic upheaval would understand an apocalyptic lament sung by eschatological hope…
I think that they would get it and join in the song - a song of faith, hope and love; a song of resistance sung in the face of devastating loss.
Given that, as a culture, we tend to be shaped by the illusion of civility and justice and the delusion of the ‘be happy’ attitudes, many of us probably won’t get it.
However, that we do not get it does not mean that it is any less real – it’s just unacknowledged…
Perhaps we should listen more to the text; maybe we should ‘Beware’, ‘Be Wary’, ‘Be Alert’; perhaps we should ‘Keep Awake’, ‘Pay Attention’ and shoulder our responsibility for living the spirit of god who…
has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners. (Isaiah 61:1)
In the end, apocalyptic expression proclaims that one should ‘never, never, never give up’ for ‘⁶…the one who endures will be saved’ (Mark 13:19a)…
As Winston Churchill said, ‘if you’re going through hell, keep going.⁷’
As Jesus said, “If you have eyes – see; if you have ears – hear!”
¹ The ‘human one’, while not literal, is perhaps a more accurate translation of the Hebrew phrase usually translated as ‘the Son of Man’.
² Of course, the ways of ‘Caesar’ need not be state sponsored. To illustrate, they can be practiced by the Moral Majority (anything but), by the ‘silent majority’, by straight, white family values advocates, all of which harbour power to exclude anything not considered ‘legitimate’ political discourse. Here we need apocalyptic discourse to dislocate, to derail, to defy, to challenge restricted, established discourse.
³ Read any of the ‘Left Behind’ novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins for an example of such lurid fascination.
⁴ Hear the echoes of the death camps!
⁵ The temple was destroyed, and the city of Jerusalem razed in 67 C.E.
⁶ This is a comment of Winston Churchill made during the early dark days of WWII.