By James C. Sprouse
Biblical scholars often note that the Gospel of Mark actually had two endings. One is found in Chapters 14-16 (the story of Jesus’ rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection. The other is Chapter 13, which talks about a period beyond Jesus’ resurrection—about the destruction of the Temple and the coming of the Son of Man.
It will be helpful for you and me to not read this scripture as a predictive message for the future, but as a word addressing the issues squeezing Mark’s community of faith at the time of the Gospel’s writing. The events in today’s lesson don’t come from some crystal ball of a divine soothsayer, but are the fabric of the community’s everyday life. The violence of war, the Roman impending destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the perilous existence of the church under persecution, the enticing voices of false prophets and false messiahs were all urgent concerns for the Christian church about 30 years after Jesus’ earthly ministry.
The initial words of Jesus’ announcing the destruction of the Temple are prompted by a comment from one of his disciples about the beauty of the buildings. Jesus knows how Jerusalem will suffer in the near future, and also how much he will have to personally suffer to accomplish God’s purpose for all the world’s peoples and all of creation.
The modern church knows plenty about voices that talk a good game, use many of the right formulas, but at heart they worship at a different altar. There are many churches who offer a crossless religion, a Christianity without tears; others wed faith to nation and demand patriotic ideology; still others advocate the usefulness of religion arguing for the importance of prayer as an effective means of self-enhancement.
In spite of all that transpires within the world and the church, we are still invited to be hopeful. Wars, threats of wars, earthquakes, world-wide diseases and famines all represent the worldly chaos in which Mark’s church and ours finds itself. The woes may have changed a little or travel under different names, but any church that remains faithful to Christ will always find itself beleaguered and vulnerable. There will be little objective data to warrant optimism about the future.
And yet, all this chaos is understood to be the beginning of the birth pangs. The image is striking. It takes seriously the reality of human sin and the suffering it causes. There is no denial of life’s pain from Jesus. But in the economy of God all our sufferings serve a purpose. They signal the end of a long time of waiting and the coming birth of new life. Our sufferings need not lead to despair, but to hope, to the anticipated dawn of God’s new day.
Just as Christmas is a twelve day season, Easter is a fifty day season. We tend to focus our church attendance and feelings of well-meaning only on the two high, holy days in the Christian church. This year I invite you to celebrate the full season of Easter with the remembrance that every Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. A new day God blesses with renewed opportunities for faithful discipleship every sabbath. Shalom, Jim