Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 18, 2018

“Death brings out the best or the worst in people.”  I have used that line often, both as a statement of truth discerned from my own experience, and as a guide to those who are in the midst of dealing with the loss of one they loved (or didn’t love all that much.)  When confronted with the passing of life, I have witnessed healing and bonding of families that never fails to move my heart. I have also seen the worst of human behavior: blame and denial, bitterness and anger, jealousy and greed.  I could tell stories and I am sure you could tell your own.

We know that when any crisis or disaster or ending occurs, our true selves are revealed in families and among friends, but also when crisis affects communities and our nation, even as church.  Maybe because it is here, when our false-selves, our masks, break down, and in that revealing moment, we either dissolve into chaos - or we work to build new life from the ashes of the old. We stumble into darkness-  or we come together and discover our true strength, who we really are and can become.

Daniel the prophet was preparing his people for the worst possible thing they could imagine - destruction of Jerusalem.  He tells them it will be “a time unsurpassed in distress.” Mark, certain that he would see the end of the world and the second coming, recalls the words of Jesus: “The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light and the stars will be falling from the sky.”  (There’s a cheery message for the morning, isn’t it?!)

Why does the church throw these words of fear and dread into our lives today?  Don’t we have enough of that in our world already? Aren’t the almost-daily reports of another mass shooting or another destructive wild fire or another act of senseless violence enough?  Is the church just joining “the world is going to hell” bandwagon…or…in her wisdom, is the church helping us anticipate the worst so that we might choose NOW how we will respond?

Think of it in this way: You know how fire and police departments, emergency management teams, businesses and schools drill for the worst, measuring the response and practicing for the “what if”?  So the scriptures today invite is into a sort of practice apocalypse, too, calling us to practice, if you will, how to respond and live now in the hope that we will respond and live the same when that time comes.  

But while the scriptures begin with doom-and-gloom, they also proclaim an accompanying message of hope that life and love will always prevail.  Daniel says “the wise will shine brightly and those who lead many to justice shall be like stars forever.” Jesus says that when earth and heaven will pass away, his words, his eternal creative power, will not.  These words are not meant to put a band-aid on the situation or give comfort, they are our promise.

Perhaps the truth that is gained today is that the great apocalypse, the ending of all time and life, is written every day of our lives.  If we live our endings, our failed dreams and failed relationship, every loss and ending, every closure, every death, all with the prevailing word of God’s love, are we not already writing the ending of the big story?  If each apocalypse today is met with faith, with hope, with the promise of a tomorrow filled with new dreams and renewed relationships, stories of new beginnings and open doors, promises of eternal life, isn’t it likely that we will meet THE apocalypse in the same way?  

Because we know that endings bring out either the best or the worst of us.  

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