Jesus gets a lot of blame for the craziness of people. Jesus falls prey to more human projections than we allow. And the words of Jesus get twisted into every shape short of cruciform.
Pentecost, the long season that really speaks of the Holy Spirit growing us into “little Christs,” brings us face to face with Mark 13:1-8. We are at the very end of the liturgical church year. Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday stands before us pregnant with hope.
“As he [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’[a] and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 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.”
Jesus brings us an apocalyptic moment that begins with destruction and ends in birth. Harriet and I have two sons. Had sexual intercourse not occurred there’d be no sons. One reality, virginity died, to give birth to a new reality—sons. One reality, my lucrative career in real estate died, stone cold dead, to give birth to a new reality, me as cleric. When a young man asks a young girl to marry him, no matter what answer she gives him, his old world has died and a new world is born. Those are all present moments that carry as much hope as they do trepidation.
It may be hard for people who neither know nor share the experiences of being with people as birth occurs or as death occurs, but those are holy moments abounding in hope and fear both at once. An end takes place as a beginning occurs—and these both at once. It is in those trysts where death and life touch and hold hands for a bit. It is a moment so holy that it can radiate a kind of silence and meaningfulness beyond the scope of our grasp—something indefinite and definite both at once. These are clear and present danger moments whose confluence with clear and present hope moments occupy the same space and move us into something more real than had been before.
So, when Jesus tells his disciples that everything around them will be rubble, he isn’t making some Jack Van Impe-like futuristic prediction about some bizarre spin on the end of time. Jesus is speaking of the “clear and present danger of the moment.” A parish over in Maiden (of a Christian denomination for whom I have little respect due to their oppressive take on women, etc.) has this on their marquis: “No Jesus. No peace. Know Jesus. Know peace.” I think the sentiment is sweet but it is not what I’ve experienced of being known to Jesus, by Jesus, through grace.
St. John the baptizer was known to and by Jesus and not one stone of John was left standing—he was beheaded. St. Paul was known to and by Jesus and not one stone of Paul was left standing—imprisoned and (per tradition) beheaded. St. John David of Bryant was known to and by Jesus and stone by stone his narrative of self is being dismantled—as the Christ murders that person and fashions from the hubris and rubble a new person being born with a new narrative.
And right there is the cruciform crux of the matter. We all have a cross. We are “little Christs.” Did we really think we’d have no cross, no death? Bonhoeffer gets it right when he says, “When Christ calls a man (or woman, or child), he bids him come and die.”
And right there is our problem—we want to be made new, but who among us wants to die? Who either wants or expects to be reduced to rubble? Don’t we want to be left stone upon stone? And isn’t it so very true that we build huge monuments to medicate our reality because we know that we exist in clear and present danger? By erecting huge churches and programs named in our honor aren’t we seeking to fool ourselves into thinking that we can stave off the death of us? We engrave into ornate chalices, emboss on stained glass, our names and the names of those we love in prodigious efforts to medicate away the pain of knowing that Christ bids us come—and we must needs die. We try to craft a piece of forever that will assure us that once our bodies turn again to dust as the breath of God releases itself from us that some stone of us will remain standing upon stone.
So much of our time and energy is spent avoiding the truth—-the Son of God comes to reduce it all, us all, to rubble.
Yet—therein also lies the hope. There is no resurrection without death. The only way one gets to resurrection is to die. And what is resurrection? It is nothing short of birth. That is why verse 8 brings us hope in the form of birth pangs. We have hope to be found amidst destruction. And that hope is born from the passing away process. Pecans die and are born into mighty pecan trees. Eggs die and are born into all kinds of birds and other critters. Old things do pass away as our God makes all things new. If the old does not pass away, new does not come. When death and birth hold hands for a bit some part of God’s forever is felt—and together pain and peace embrace.
Don’t we fool ourselves into believing that when Jesus comes he brings peace after the fashions we project upon him?
There’s a reason we’ll soon sing of Bethlehem, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Our Lord is coming to make all things new….and that means all the old will die, and we with it, as all is being made new. It is truly a time of hopes and fears of all the years being met in the moments of our God killing us into everlasting life. It’s happening now—just look around you. Look all around at the rubble.