The end is upon us! Well, the end of our time with the Gospel of Mark is upon us. This Sunday marks (no pun intended) the last week in our year long lectionary cycle with Mark. When Advent begins on November 28, marking the start of a new year in the church, we’ll begin our cycle with Luke. (We get John on 11/21, Christ the King Sunday.) Mark will come around again in two years, when we arrive in Advent 2023.
Mark is the shortest and oldest of the four gospels. It was most likely written during or just after the Jewish rebellion against the Roman occupation of Palestine (66-70 CE). Rome quashed the rebellion and destroyed the Temple, an act of religious, spiritual, cultural, and communal desolation for the Jewish community. In the middle of this catastrophe, Mark preached a message of hope. Confronted with tragedy, a system that seemed intractable, Mark described God’s radical love and reordering of the world, incarnate in the person of Jesus.
This Sunday’s Gospel, Mark 13:1-8, is at the beginning of what is sometimes called the Markan Apocalypse. Apocalypse means a revealing: Mark is revealing what is to occur as God reorders the world. The temple will be thrown down, a time of suffering will follow – and these are just the beginning of the “birth pangs.” If this seems dire, well, it was a dire time. Jesus was critiquing a world that had its priorities backwards, in the same tradition as the Hebrew prophets. Reading Mark with an eye toward Advent, you can hear echoes of Mary’s Magnificat, too: “he has scattered the proud…brought down the powerful from their thrones, lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:46-55). Through Jesus God is bringing about a world of justice, freedom, and peace: a sanctuary for all people.
This is good news indeed, good news intended for people the world order kept out, left out, pushed out – for the stranger, the refugee, the prisoner, the sick, the oppressed – for people who desperately need and long for a change. It is also startling imagery for those of us who rest comfortably in the world of the status quo. Our lives must change in this reordering – how must we live more fully into God’s will so that the hungry are filled with good things? – and that, too, is good news. This is a hopeful message of total transformation, an answer for our prayer that God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. As followers of Jesus, we are bound up in this, called to be co-workers with the Spirit, changed and changing in the process.
The systems and structures that created the world God is turning upside down are still active all around us. We are caught up in them every day. Racism is one such system. One of the most important things people of faith in our country can do today is to confront racism and the ways it has created a world that deals death. There are sign ups in this week’s E-Redeemer for Sacred Ground, the Episcopal Church’s reading- and film-based curriculum on race and faith. It was created by members of the church to be used in an Episcopal context, grounded in scripture and theology. Over 90 members of Redeemer have already completed Sacred Ground, digging in deep to questions of who we are, what our history is, and how we are called to respond. If you have not participated already, I encourage you to sign up for our next set of cohorts.
I wonder: How is the Spirit moving in you? What new life is being called forth? Where might God’s abiding grace and love sweep through? How might you respond? May this be a time for new beginnings – a time for revelations. They go hand in hand with endings, after all.