What a week it has been: COP26 with the charge to “drive to the finishing line” (or should that read “‘fly to the finishing line’”?), more sleaze and rumours of sleaze at the Palace of Westminster, more intrigue and misery at the Polish-Belarus border, COVID surges in Germany, the North of Ireland once more on the brink, continuing suffering in Ethiopia and on it goes……No respite, apparently no good news, and on top of that we have the Gospel of Armageddon this Sunday courtesy of Mark 13:14-32 with the ‘supporting cast’ of Daniel 12:1-3. The scripture texts for this 33rd Sunday of the year could not have been better choreographed. The end is nigh, or so it would seem.
On the subject of ‘the end is nigh’ I have to admit that I am a great fan of David Croft’s hugely popular sitcom Dad’s Army, both the original series which ran from 1968 to 1977 and the subsequent films in 1971 and 2016. John Laurie’s Private Frazer, is immortalised in the words ‘We’re doomed, Captain Mainwaring, we’re all doomed” (Dumfries accent compulsory). And who can forget the best joke ever as the German soldier questions Pike and demands to know his name whilst our intrepid hero Captain Mainwaring immediately chips in: ‘Don’t tell him, Pike!’
So is the end nigh, and are we all doomed? Well, we certainly have cosmic imagery of grand proportions in our readings today. Human affairs are indeed in tumult and history appears to be ‘on the loose’. Yet the sky and the solid earth stand firm: ‘a generation comes and a generation goes, yet the earth remains forever (Eccl 1:4). There is no doubt that cosmic collapse is in the air: the sun and moon are ‘snuffed out’ and the stars fall – a radical transition by any standards: a time of terror, and trouble and persecution with wars and famine and earthquakes. Sounds all too familiar. After this catalogue of disaster, there is of course the good news: ‘Jesus looks beyond the time of distress to the final time, when the Son of Man will gather the people of God to himself. Jesus sees beyond suffering and persecution to a future of peace with God.
Cosmic fireworks indeed. Yet there is a vision of peace beyond suffering, and this is so important for Mark’s community, a community remorselessly persecuted at this time. This persecuted community needs to be able to grasp something beyond pain and suffering. And such is the purpose of all apocalyptic writing, not to instil fear of some end time but to provide hope for those who suffer here and now. Redemptorist writer Denis McBride sums up thus:
“We live in age of uncertainty: the future never looks wholly secure. But Jesus holds out a vision that take us beyond our worst imaginings. There is a place beyond the mountains of arms and weapons, beyond environmental damage and terrorism. This vision doesn’t free us from the duty to strive for peace and right living but it does free us from the blasphemy of believing that a nuclear holocaust will be the last word in the human story. There is only one final word: Jesus. That word has to be enough for us.”