•Daniel 12: 1-3; Hebrews 10: 11-14, 18; Mark 13: 24-32•
Weekly Scripture Readings: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November is a month of good memory and hope. We remember and celebrate the Communion of Saints. One day all who have gone before us, all who share our planetary home with us now, and all who follow us will share life in that Gracious Mystery we name God.
As the leaves of Autumn fall to the ground, our Sunday readings speak about cosmic events. “The sun will be darkened, the moon will not gives its light, and the stars will fall from the sky.” To the medieval mind and still today these are events associated with the end of the world. It is from such texts that cartoons of bearded ascetics with warning signs are born.
The context in which Mark’s gospel was composed is important. For decades the Roman legions occupied and exploited the people of the Holy Land. In the year 66 Jewish resentment exploded and the population rebelled.
This “Great Revolt” marked the beginning of the Roman War. That war finally ended sixty-five years later and produced the first major Jewish genocide or holocaust. Nearly a thousand towns, villages and cities were razed. The Holy Land was in turmoil much like Syria today.
Extreme human suffering and the destruction caused by the Great Revolt and the Roman War formed the context within which the gospels were written. For the evangelists and most of their peers, it felt like the world was about to end. This motivated them to attribute apocalyptic images to Jesus hoping to provide hope for their peers in the midst of meaninglessness violence.
By the time of this “Great Revolt” many companions of Jesus of Nazareth had died or were dying. Those still living continued to remember his words. Memories sustained them. They never saw him but celebrated his life and invisible presence with a simple meal.
But the years were passing. When would they be able to experience him and the truth enshrined in his words? What were they to think?
Mark, Matthew and Luke provided an answer. Their gospels preserve memories of the words and life of Jesus plus an eschatological discourse. The evangelists wanted to sustain the hope of their communities and encourage them to cope without losing the dream. In the midst of violence and destruction, they employed cosmic images and symbols: “The sun will be darkened, the moon will not gives its light, and the stars will be fall from the sky.” They were assuring their peers that one day, unconfined by space and time, we all will live with the Risen Christ in the Gracious Mystery we name God!
Mark concludes this eschatological discourse emphasizing, “of that day or hour, no one knows… only the Father.” Over the centuries, for rhetorical effect, some preachers ignored that final caution and distorted these cosmic images and symbols by focusing on an expected end time. The good news proclaimed by Christ easily became the stuff of cartoons: bearded ascetics with signs announcing, “the end is near.” In another cartoon the sign says, “the end is not coming. You have to learn to cope with it along with the rest of us.”
Today Mark’s Jesus invites us to “learn a lesson from the fig tree.” Life is terminal. Once we are born we begin to die. The end will come in our individual deaths, if not the end of the world as we know it. With that lesson in mind I invite you to remember and celebrate the Communion of Saints. Sit quietly and look at yourself, your relationships and your life. Recognize what makes you feel good about yourself. Be honest, gentle and kind with yourself. Claim your own truth and your deep goodness. Identify the blessings you enjoy and all that is good, positive and even noble in you. In doing so remember what the Communion of Saints means. We are the Living Body of Christ. One day, all who have gone before us, all who share our planetary home with us today, and all who will follow will share life in that Gracious Mystery we name God.