As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’ When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. ‘As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, 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.
What an interesting little prophecy in the middle of the passion narrative of Jesus in Mark. These verses come to us in the second week of Lent which reminds us of the huge blessings only possible from God and that the entirety of our selves are to respond to that blessing. This section is often called the Little Apocalypse. Apocalypse is not a single event, but a revelation; something ongoing. The ongoing prophecy in this set of words could have been written in 2020 and 2021. We have seen world leaders take followers dangerously astray, siblings betraying each other, a virus as enemy, wars, earthquakes, hideous actions against faithful people. The list of anxious and fearful change is exhausting. If almost 2000 years ago, followers were told that all of these pressures were but the beginning of birth pangs, our world is in very slow gestation. Will there be a birth to new, fair and loving times? Is it even possible with what we see repeated in nation after nation?
Yes, there will be a new world. It is up to us, powered by Holy Spirit, to live the eternal love of God, experiencing the positive difference when we are faithful in cruel times. We Jesus-people can’t afford to give up hope, giving power to the destruction of community. The historical cycle of Lent asks us to know that every bit of us, every sinew, every facial expression, every heartbeat, every word is blessed by God who mysteriously does this active love. Our role is to accept such blessing (with no argument about deserving it), share such ridiculous faith against the common angst, and fly in the face of daily panic. Let us be the blessing by being the peace our communities need.
Oh God, really? Do I have to be strong? Is it down to me to be peace? I’m tired. Yet, as I pause, you let me know that you know. None of us is truly alone. Give us all power to lift our eyes to see our new family for new times, people of justice faith gathered by you, in you, for all.
The Revd Elizabeth Gray-King, Education & Learning Programme Officer, member St Columba’s URC Oxford.