A local retelling of Mark’s little apocalypse, since the apocalyptic tradition is “both profoundly contextual and transferable.” (Ched Myers). (Listen.)
So Joshua and some of his mates caught a train to the little city. They wandered up from the station, and soon found themselves at a crossroads. Here, they saw a magnificent cathedral; there, a church on the hill. “Wow,” said one of his friends, “What incredible buildings! What spires! What stonework! What domination of the streetscape!”
Then Joshua asked, “Do you see, really see, those buildings? Look again: How are they funded? What’s their attitude to children? What suffering has been covered up? Who has power, and who is being dominated? Who’s being shown the door? Don’t you see how sick their systems are? I’m telling you, it will all come crashing down.”
His friends were silent. They walked together to the top of a hill, and looked back at the city. Then some of his friends asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this happen? What signs should we be looking for?”
Joshua said to them, “Don’t you fall for that end-times rubbish! And don’t let anyone lead you astray. Many will come in my name, preaching and teaching. There will be wars and rumours of war, and plagues, and earthquakes: and they will tie all these together and say they are signs. Embassies will move to Jerusalem, the French will rise up against Australia, and other nations will weigh in. Countries will build walls to keep out their neighbours, and ethnic conflicts will explode. But don’t be alarmed, and don’t lose your heads. These things happen: they always have. But they’re nothing more than labour pains: for amidst all these struggles and suffering, something new, something life-giving, is being born.
“As for yourselves: beware. When you stick to my message of love, nonviolence, and solidarity with the most vulnerable, you’re at risk. You’ll be accused by your own of errant teaching and heresy; you’ll be attacked by trolls. And if you’re pressured to fight in God’s name, drop everything and get the hell out of there. They’ll call you a coward and hate you for leaving, but there’s refuge in the hills.
“On the other hand, when some Christians become violent; when they resist public health measures and riot for ‘freedom’ in my name; when they argue in the public sphere for the right to discriminate; when clergy abuse and church cover ups are revealed, you’ll be hated by others for being a Christian, too. Friends will no longer want to know you: you’ll be shamed and rejected because of me.
“When you’re accused, don’t react and don’t be anxious about what you will say. Instead, speak only those words which come to you—words of love and peace, words of justice and forgiveness—for it is not you who speak, but the holy breath. Religious conflict will shake your family to the core. Family Christmas may become a thing of the past, or marred by argument or too much unspoken: but the one who holds fast to my message, that is, the one who keeps on loving to the end, will be saved.
“Be alert: I have already told you everything you need to know. When it feels like it’s all falling apart, when the Catholic hierarchy and the evangelical industrial complex are revealed to be power-hungry, money-grubbing, abusive and unjust, when church leaders are in cahoots with violent demagogues, when Christendom is collapsing and it all comes crashing down: only then will they see the Human One riding on clouds, radiating love and grace and forgiveness. Only then will he send out his messengers and gather in his beloved from north and south, east and west, from the highest heavens to the depths of the earth.
““From the kooyang, or eel, learn a lesson: When the mature kooyang head out to sea, you know it’s honeybee season, that is, late March through May. And likewise, no matter what people say, no matter the plagues, the earthquakes, the nuclear threat, the changing climate or the collapse of Christendom, know this: When you see these things, you know that everything I have described is near: and some of you will see it in your own lifetime. Heaven and earth will come to an end, but my words will last forever.
“But as for when this all happens, nobody knows: not the angels in heaven, not the Son. Only God knows. So stay awake, stay alert, and pray: and put my message into practice. Love one another, forgive one another, encourage one another. Welcome and befriend the most vulnerable. Stick together, and pray some more. The harder it gets, the more you will need each other: so hang in there. And whatever happens, don’t panic. As I said before, these events are nothing but labour pains. Amidst all this upheaval and mess, the old world is falling away and the new world is emerging: a world built entirely on love. So stay awake, and be ready: for the kingdom is at hand.” Ω
Reflect:What systems and structures do you see falling apart? What glimpses do you have of the coming kingdom? What is the place of suffering in this new age? What place violence?
A retelling of Mark 13 by Alison Sampson given to Sanctuary on 14 November 2021 (Year B Proper 28) © Sanctuary 2021. Image by Geordanna Cordero on Unsplash.
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