Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Gospel of Mark Challenge: Reflection Six -- The Little Apocalypse

This Generation Will Not Pass Away Until All These Things Have Taken Place

It can be frustrating for those of us in mainstream Christianity when we feel as if certain very conservative sectors of Christianity have appropriated the Bible for their sole use, and their own particular stream of interpretation as the only “true” mode of interpreation. Who are we to blame, but ourselves, though? Do we in the Christian mainstream assert ownership over the Bible? Do we openly engage in a public conversation with the text of the Bible? Do we attempt to deal with difficult passages as they present themselves? I fear we do not. As I have said previously, sometimes our lectionary does not help us much. It often excises difficult passages, and in particular, severely edits many of the apocalyptic passages of Scripture. As I see it, this is extremely problematic for mainstream Christians. For most mainstream Christians, the only teaching that they ever get, or sermons that they ever hear about the apocalyptic passages of Scripture, come from televanglelists or from visits to so-called “bible-believing” churches. While it would be easy to blame such churches and their dubious literal apocalyptic teaching and interpretation, I suggest we consider our own failure to take up the challenge of interpreting these passages for ourselves and for our people.

Advent provides an opportunity for us to do this. In the weeks leading up to Advent and throughout Advent itself, the lectionary gives us the opportunity to read some of these passages and to think about them. Certainly, the lectionary editors have carved up some of this material and it is incumbent upon us to try to handle it not in its edited versions but in its textual integrity.

Lately, I have been considering the Gospel of Mark, as we are moving into Year B, the year in which said gospel is read. The first Sunday of Advent includes a portion of Mark’s “Little Apocalypse,” from chapter 13. The verses offered are verses that look toward the coming of the Son of Man. In Advent we are balancing two themes related to the coming of God to us. First, we look forward of the birth of the Christ child at Christmas. Many of the Old Testament passages as well as a couple of Lukan passages speak to this. Secondly, we look toward the consummation of all things in the coming of the Lord on the day of judgment. Often we play down the latter in favour of the former. Is it not more palatable to talk about the birth of Christ in a stable rather than the coming of the Lord in judgment? Yet, how similar the two events are. In a world that was filled with oppression, injustice and hatred, Christ appeared. And in our present day, in such a similar world (although so much has changed, so little has changed) he comes again.

The earlier portion of Mark 13 is not read, but speaks of all sorts of signs of the times – terrible things that will indicate that the coming of the Lord is at hand. But has this not been the theme of Mark’s entire gospel? Recall the first words we find on the lips of Jesus, “The kingdom of God has come near… Repent and believe the Good News.” The kingdom of God has come near. The gospel was written to call people to the point of decision. Every age is the end-time. It is a time for the old to be put away and for the new to break forth. It is a time for repentance, re-creation, reconciliation and transformation. The old order is passing away. The bad news is this: that evil rears its head in every age and tries to take control of the world. The bad news is this: that we are, from age to age, complicit with the powers of evil in their attempt to control the present age. The bad news is this: that we have no power of our own to change this. From age to age there will be wars and rumours of wars. We cannot change that.

But here is the good news: God does. God has. God will. In Christ Jesus, in the birth of the Messiah, the old order is passing away, and the kingdom of God has come very near… indeed, is at hand. Here is the Good news: although the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. Here is the Good news: God is making us anew, changing us and calling us his children, on this very day, in this very age.

Apocalyptic theology is not to be feared, for it is not really about some future revealing of God, but his present self-disclosure, to you and to me, in Christ Jesus. Every age is an age of great upheaval. But in every age our Lord comes to us with healing in his wings.

c. 2008, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves