Remembering, … darkness, … and hope
Homily for 15 November, Mark 13: 22-34 NRSV — The Rev’d Glenn Empey
This gospel passage is incredibly challenging. It’s challenging by turning up in the lectionary immediately after Remembrance Day. And it is even more challenging in light of what happened in the world just two days after we remembered those costs and sacrifices of war.
Seventy-five years after the ‘last Great War’, on Remembrance Day, we can get to a point of solemnity and thankfulness. We can picture and remember the travesty of war but we can — because of those years of reflection — also put it in some form of perspective. And I think that perspective is essentially one of hope. Hope that all was not in vain. Hope that peace will ensue.
We can here the plea of the fallen as a reminder to seek peace through hope.
On an epitaph in Burma are inscribed the words of those who fell there in battle. It is a paraphrase of words similarly echoed by the soldiers of ancient Sparta thousands of years before.
On the epitaph at Kohima in Burma, the fallen cry out and say to us:
When you go home
tell them of us and say,
for your tomorrow
we gave our today.
By our remembering and our thinking of their day, we pay a humble tribute for what they gave up for us. But, it also reminds us of the turning-point that sets our vision onto the tomorrow that they bequeathed to us.
We can dare to envision the challenges of making peace, as at last achievable, no matter how daunting that task may be.
We are reminded to re-focus the power of remembering into a vision for peace and the quest for peace.
Peace among peoples of the world. Peace among the peoples of each nation and territory.
And we can offer the prayer that our remembering may reach forward to make barriers fall away… so that there is justice and there is equality… so that there is food, there is water, there is shelter, and there is healing for all… no longer reasons for strife or causes for brokenness.
We can pray that we recognize our today as an everlasting gift from them — from their day — that fills our present with hope in our tomorrow.
But then suddenly out of the blue, word is flashed instantaneously around the globe that Paris in France has been shaken by bombings, mass shootings, murder and acts of terrorism. Hundreds of innocents are killed and many more injured. And the city is in emotional turmoil. We are fast-forwarded from acts of remembering into the reality of the present.
And it is so much more difficult to make any sense of it. It defies our understanding. It’s almost impossible to see the ‘good guys’ from the ‘bad guys’ at least before the actual travesty. There are no clear lines drawn up that pit armies of nation against nation with a clear cause such as halting the slaughter of millions of Jews in Europe or overthrowing some kind of clearly identifiable tyrant who has marched in to occupy previously free nations.
The politics of the Middle East are so defiantly difficult to unpack. The fact that millions are fleeing does indicate that there is something really, really wrong. But, it is so hard to grasp.
There are so many, many players on the scene: leaders of great nations, political parties vying for power, United Nations trying to resolve tensions seemingly in futility, and those who fight on the ground in a daily dynamic we can’t fully understand. Although the media’s so-called experts make their attempts, I wonder if anywhere there really is a pundit who can explain the whole mess. Who knows whom to believe.
Wouldn’t it be marvelous, wouldn’t it be wonderful, and amazing, and a godsend if some figure would arise who could solve all this mess?
In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the ‘Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
That was exactly what the people in Jesus’ day were longing to hear and to see in the midst of the turmoil of their lives under Roman oppression. They were awaiting and longing for the coming of a Messiah.
For us, the Messiah did come and we know him to be Jesus, now the Risen Christ. And we believe that he will come again. We say that every week in the creeds, the statement of our faith. “But about that day, or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.”
It is a hope that is fundamental to our faith. We don’t know; we believe and we hope.
That’s what Jesus message was to the people in his day. And that is Jesus message to us. He speaks of the hope for us to be able to endure what seems like the darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of stars.
The profound hope that all will be well… finally. We cannot understand exactly how but we can trust the promise. “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
Today’s gospel is not a prediction of an apocalypse. It is a reminder of Jesus’ promise. It is a sign of the power of hope in the midst of our inability to understand. It is a call to hold a profound hope in our hearts. A profound, enduring hope that enables the faithful to cope, to manage, and to seek to overcome the brokenness of the world.
The message is that there is hope in the darkness whatever that darkness may be — whatever it was then, whatever it is now on a societal level and whatever it may be for each of us on an individual, personal level.
And all the while, we wait for him to come again into the world to usher in a new age of “great power and glory”. That is our profound hope in Christ. That is the hope that lightens any darkness. Jesus will come again. We just don’t know when or how.
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Found your Sermon very touching and appropriate today., Father Glenn . My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Paris and all those who work for Peace in these times.
Very troubling times but we venture forward in hope. Blessings and thanks,