Mark 13:1-8 Other Readings: Daniel 12:1-3, Psalm 16, Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25
It’s been a week of memories of tragic events in human history – reflecting on war and loss. Giving thanks for all those in the past and the present who strive to bring peace. Just last Sunday we participated in Remembrance Day and Steve read those graphic descriptions of war from a soldier. Nationally we’ve seen many ceremonies of remembrance, not only with political leaders, but ordinary folk on Wednesday stopping for two minutes in streets and shops to remember the impact of wars on our lives. And, as a stark reminder that tragic events are not just in the past, we have all the many conflicts in the Middle East, and just on Friday, the horror of attacks in Paris – horrible memories that will stay forever with those close to the attacks.
We know how important memory is to our ability to function effectively in our life – satisfying our need for stability, our need to know who we are and who we belong to and our need to know how we fit into society. But, important as memory is, does it pull us back into the past, or help us look forward to the future?
I want to reflect on some of my good and less good memories, and as I do so I invite you to think of things in your life that have passed away. I remember I first came into this building to join the cub-scouts when I was 7 years old – 65 years ago!
I remember sitting on the floor as part of the cub pack; playing the game of British Bulldog against that back wall and many youth fellowship events in this hall, some of which are better not mentioned here! I met Christine here. During my adult lifetime here I’ve seen 9 rectors come and go. Suddenly, I feel a little old!
One of the striking features of human experience is how much we once knew that is gone. Many people: friends who have moved away and we no longer see; my parents and brother long deceased – many good memories, as well as some painful. It’s easy to focus on that lifetime of past experience, particularly remembering the good times with friends and family, especially if the current time in your life is not so good.
The house I was born in & the primary school I went to both demolished; the shipyard I started work in – gone and changed into Ocean Terminal!; the first school I taught in, and the first school I was head teacher of – both demolished. Buildings disappear. Our old church building just behind us, built by the famous architect Gilbert Scott, was still used for worship during my formative years – just one of many buildings used by St James folk over the centuries which are now gone or no longer used. One day, this building we now use, that we’ve invested so much into over the past couple of years, will probably also be gone.
The reading today from Mark’s Gospel starts with the disciples admiring the past – the magnificent architectural stones and buildings of the Temple – the focus of the worship of the people of Israel and their historic journey and relationship with the Lord – lots of historic experience and tradition to remember and value.
But, as we reflect on the story we should wonder why the disciples are so impressed by the grandeur, stability and strength of this building which represents historic Israel and the ecclesiastical hierarchy – traditions which Jesus is radically challenging. Jesus has already acted against the Temple ‘cleansing’ it (Mark 11.15-18). He has warned against the teachers of the Law.
We must wonder how, after all they’ve been through together with Jesus, and the many times of difficulty with religious leaders, they can be so focused on a building.
Jesus, as always, gently leads them away from the apparent stability of the past represented by the Temple building, to give them an insight into the crisis unfolding around them. It’s a message that even the most impressive and magnificent buildings will one day fade away. It’s a very uncomfortable message of the signs that will precede the coming catastrophe – false messiahs, wars, countries fighting each other, earthquakes and famines. It feels like a prophecy for today for very little has changed down the centuries.
All these signs are with us today such as the mass of refugees seeking a safer life in Europe. Jesus teaches the disciples that alongside the destruction of the Temple, these are signs of the unravelling of creations long-established order that they cannot hold onto.
Their social and political world will collapse. And down the centuries, we see time after time, great empires which grow, fade and collapse. We remember, for example, even in my lifetime how Britain it seemed once ruled the world with its great empire – now gone.
Well, this sounds such a depressing message. But, notice the language of hope at the end of verse 8. Jesus teaches the disciples about the difficult times ahead as a prelude to giving them real hope. He sets the difficulties they will experience in the context of the promise and joy that the birth of a child brings – ‘The beginning of the birth pangs’ suggests more pain to come, but eventually an outcome which will be life-giving.
Indeed all of today’s readings are concerned to reassure Christians, and to encourage them in the face of distress and testing to keep the faith in the difficult life circumstances we often face. At the heart of the readings is confidence in God’s faithfulness: that great image that Jesus gives us of life here on this earth as the pain of childbirth before the new life is born; Psalm 16 reminds us “You, Lord, are all I have; my future is in your hands” and Daniel the promises of victory over death, and new life in God’s new world. The readings are intended to strengthen our resolve not to be tempted to seek security in the material comforts of life, nor in established institutions; the ability of politicians to create a better world; or preachers with easy appealing messages that promise a prosperous and happy life.
Jesus did not give a message that life would be easy and painless for those who follow him.
Some of us have a relatively easy journey through life, while others experience the pain of illness, disability, broken relationships or decline in older age. All of us at times will have difficult and distressing life experiences.
Today even with all the benefits of modern society and medicine we still see all those signs that Jesus described with endless wars and conflict, disease, hunger and instability and change.
Our memories of past events and experience are important, and Jesus wants us to remember them just as he valued the laws given to the people of Israel. But, to remember our experiences as Christians looking towards a better life for all people now and in the future. Jesus wants us to remember and think of our past and present experiences as an often difficult and challenging stage in our journey.
So, let’s fix and hold in our memories today the wonderful picture Jesus gives us – seeing the difficulties of current life as but the birth pains of the new life which we have begun through our relationship with Jesus here in this life; a life journey which will only be completed and perfected in the life to come; the travails of this current life as the precursor of the joy of a child being born.
Let’s hold that picture of new birth in our memory each day of our life and be encouraged. Chiming with that wonderful picture in Revelation 21, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth … God’s home is with Mankind! … God will wipe away all tears from their eyes …there will be no more death”.
Quote from Warsan Shire – Somali-British Poet
Praying, this afternoon, for a hurting world and for those helping in the aftermath of destruction
“later that night
I held the atlas in my lap
Ran my fingers over the whole world
“Where does it hurt”