Jesus said: “You will see ‘The Awful Horror’ standing in the place where he should not be.” (Note to the reader: be sure to understand what this means!) “Then those who are in Judea must run away to the hills. Someone who is on the roof of his house must not lose time by going down into the house to get anything to take with him. Someone who is in the field must not go back to the house for his cloak. How terrible it will be in those days for women who are pregnant and for mothers with little babies! Pray to God that these things will not happen in the winter! For the trouble of those days will be far worse than any the world has ever known from the very beginning when God created the world until the present time. Nor will there ever be anything like it again. But the Lord has reduced the number of those days; if he had not, nobody would survive. For the sake of his chosen people, however, he has reduced those days.
“Then, if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’—do not believe him. For false Messiahs and false prophets will appear. They will perform miracles and wonders in order to deceive even God’s chosen people, if possible. Be on your guard! I have told you everything before the time comes.
It is Thursday, so yesterday I spent working with the asylum seekers and refugees sent by the Home Office to live in my small town. Whether Christian or not, this text is one they know in their guts. When the horror comes, there may not be time to plan or pack. Some of our mothers left children behind, who were not with them on the day they had to leave. One of our fathers cries every day, because he was working away from home – like oil riggers and many miners do – when the situation changed. He cannot go back for his children. Winter has been harsh on the refugee camps, in Europe, and on the borders of countries across the Middle East and Africa. Maybe we weren’t praying hard enough? Jesus wanted us to “pray to God that these things will not happen in winter”. Maybe we could do more ahead of next winter, to find places of safety and places of healing for those caught up in awful horror.
“But – ” someone says in reply, “Jesus was not talking about our refugee crisis.” And of course, he wasn’t. He was speaking of the one already on the horizon at his death, when Jerusalem was besieged, the temple destroyed. Mark’s first readers knew in their guts that life was precarious, that one day anyone might end up packing a bag and fleeing, or not even having time to go back for their coat. Jesus is speaking into our current crises, with empathy and compassion for those pushed out of their homes by violence, war, and threats to their life.
O Jesus, Draw near to those forced from their homes, and bring comfort. And draw us near, that we may bring what we can, comfort who we can, and do what we can, for your sake. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr ’frin Lewis-Smith is the minister of Darwen and Tockholes URCs in Lancashire..