Dates: November 11th and 14th
Preacher: Pastor Ashley Rosa-Ruggieri
First Reading: Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm: Psalm 16
Second Reading: Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25
Gospel: Mark 13:1-8
One of my favorite TV shows is called “Jane the Virgin.” It is a United States version of a Telenovela, which are shows in Latin America similar to Soap Operas. The show's main opening concept is that a young woman, who was brought up Catholic and waiting to have sex until she is married, gets accidentally artificially inseminated. Chaos ensues from there. But there is one line from a scene in the show that came to mind while reading our scripture today. Jane is in the middle of labor, and has been for quite some time. She is tired and in pain and yet she still has to birth this new baby into the world. Her mother holds her hand and says the same words that Jane's Grandma said to her Mom in the midst of these birthing pains, “Five more minutes of pain, for a lifetime of happiness.” These words of encouragement re-energize Jane to push into the future ahead. Her Mom's words, and Grandmother's words before her, have given her something to remember, that this pain comes now, but pushing through it leads to something so exciting and new.
Our readings for today can get a bit difficult when we read them and think about the destruction, famine, pain, and loss that they foretell. But within that there are also promises of what is to come, what can be. Our readings from Daniel and Mark this week are both considered to be “apocalyptic” in nature. In the Bible, we have a few books or chapters that are written in a similar way. Usually when we think of apocalyptic writing in the Bible, we think about the book of Revelation, which is all about warnings and revealing what is to come. The title “Revelation” is the translation of the Greek word apocalypsis, which is where we get our own word “apocalypse” in English. In reality, when we have apocalyptic writings in the Bible, it is not about the end of the world or the rapture as many understand. Apocalyptic messages are meant to be a removing of a veil over the society, revealing something that was always there, or revealing what could be. Hence, the book of Revelation. These revelations become warnings for us that say something along the lines of, it is not too late to change what we are doing now and instead move toward the betterment of the world that we live in.
When we have Bible passages like this that seem scary or devastating, we must remember that these passages are meant to be warnings about the paths that we take that do not consider our neighbors. In the Gospel today, Jesus gives many examples of what is to come. He speaks of these conflicts, and yet ends by saying, these are the start of the birthing pains. Sometimes when we have passages with so much destruction we can get stuck in that destruction and forget the wider thing Jesus is saying. Yes, Jesus is telling the disciples that there will be destruction, war and pain among them, but all of that is in the greater scope of what is to come, of what can be. Humanity historically tends to self-sabotage by ignoring the words of the marginalized and ostracized, and instead following the example of the powerful. When we head down this road and do not turn around or look beside us to our neighbor, we ignore these warnings and head straight into the destruction of our own free will.
We can choose to turn back from this road, purposefully going the opposite direction and away from destructive habits. When there has been a revelation that shows us the dangers of where we are going, we are called to choose just that. It is not that turning around will always be easy, in fact it oftentimes is difficult because we are moving against the crowd, but this pushing up against the hate and conflict in the world acts as a birthing pain that is making way for something new. Jesus warns the disciples, “do not be alarmed,” because these things are coming, but ends with that small bit of hope and encouragement, that though they may be just the beginning, they are birthing pains that will lead to something new.
At times, we can think of this future new thing and assume that heaven is this new place. It is far off, and we have to go through all of these other painful things now to get to the end result of life everlasting. But Jesus is offering this info to the disciples so that they may be prepared in their current life, so that they may be warned. Yes, we will some day reach the newness of God's kingdom, but this passage is encouraging us to make that new thing here and now through the birthing pains of this life. We work toward that peace and community that come from loving and caring for one's neighbor. Next week will be Christ the King or the Reign of Christ worship in the church year. It is always the final service of the church year before we begin again with Advent. We are nearing the end of the church year, which is a death of sorts. We in the northern hemisphere get to feel this message of pending new life even more acutely as we enter into a season of endings or deaths. The end of Fall, the death of the trees and flowers as they begin to lay dormant for the winter ahead, along with the hibernating animals. Even our daylight takes a rest for a few months as we push through to the bright, fresh, new Spring that awaits us on the other side.
All of this comes back to Jesus's point to the disciples that we are not to be alarmed when these endings happen, for we will make it through the birthing pains as bearers of new life. Other than knowing that we push toward the new life of rebirth and restoration, we can find good news in this passage that Jesus tells the disciples this as a group, and not as individuals. We, as neighbors and community, push through these pains, whether they be seasonal, anticipated, or against the grain, and emerge on the other side together. We encourage one another along the way, we carry the weak, we feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, we do all of this together as a foretaste of the new thing we are bearing as a community in Christ. It can and will be hard, but when we do it together and the burden is shared, it goes faster and smoother because a people united have power. And then we breakthrough to the other side, the new place we have created, and can shout with joy because the things that harmed the vulnerable are no more. And that new creation is passed on to our descendants, for lifetimes to come. So for their sake, we labor, and we push, encouraging one another with reminders of what we are pushing towards, knowing that this short time of pain can lead future generations to a lifetime of happiness and peace. Thanks be to God.