Mark 13. 24-37
Time begins and ends, for us, at the cross!
“But 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 ….”
We’ve heard the words before. And if not these, in particular, then others just like them. On the radio or television … In the movies … In books and magazines and tracts … They’re all around us! Especially at times like this. Popular religion revels in them. End Times! Last Days! The so-called secondComing of Jesus! And here they are, one more time, in Jesus’ own voice! Sensational! Spectacular! Captivating! And we’re drawn to them like moths to a flame. In those days! After that suffering! In a little explanation before the reading, we’re told that “Jesus encourages his followers to look forward to the day when he returns in power and glory to end all suffering! But I wonder … I wonder if that’s what’s really going on …
So, I read through the words, again. Read through them as I’d done so many times before. Letter by letter. Word for word. Looking for something – anything – that inspires. Looking for something – anything – that moves us. And I have to admit, it wasn’t easy. Especially when you don’t expect Jesus to come back any time soon. Face it. It’s been a long time since that first holyWeek. That first Easter. An even longer time since that first Christmas eve. Two thousand years! A hundred generations! And nothing’s happened, yet. Not even come close.
I understand that god isn’t like us. To god a day is like a thousand years. A thousand years like a day. And no one knows the day or the hour except the Father. But all this secondComing stuff begins to feel like a road trip that never ends. Always something more just around the next bend. Always something else just over the next hill. When nothing’s there, there’s always another bend, always one more hill. It goes on and on and on. It’s hard to stay interested. Hard to stay excited. After a while, Jesus’ words of encouragement remain just … words.
As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, I have to admit … I don’t expect Jesus to return anytime soon. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not next month. Not next year. And honestly, if Jesus doesn’t return in another two thousand years … well, it wouldn’t surprise me. It wouldn’t disappoint me. You see, I don’t think god works that way. Tempting. Enticing. Drawing us into the future with a gift that god never gives. But then, maybe it’s not god who gets it wrong. Maybe it’s us. Our expectations. Our assumptions. I realized, again, this past week, that I believe in a god who doesn’t need to come again. I believe in a god who never went away. I believe in a god who became flesh and blood! Who became flesh and blood and lived among us! Who became flesh and blood and lives among us, still. Only one birth. Only one death. Only one crucifixion. And everything else is nothing more – is nothing less – than an echo, a reflection, of that one coming. Like I said, last week, Jesus isn’t up high and far away. Jesus is right here! Around us and among us! Beside us and between us! In those days! After that suffering!
This year, this time through, two words jumped out at me. “Keep awake!” As I saw them, for the first time, they conjured up another image. Of Jesus. And the disciples. In Gethsemane. In the night in which he was betrayed. After the meal, they went to the garden to pray. And Jesus told them, “Keep awake!” It’s the same words! Just a chapter later! Of course, they fell asleep. After all, the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak. So, he told them a second time. “Keep awake!” He didn’t get a third chance. Judas had come. But it struck me … We look for endTimes in the wrong time! We look for lastDays in the wrong place!
In those days! After that suffering! Those aren’t Jesus’ last words! There are two, three more chapters of that, according to Mark. They weren’t spoken on the other side of the grave. They weren’t spoken outside an empty tomb. Or to friends behind locked doors. Along a road to Emmaus or on a mountaintop on the way to heaven. Jesus said them on THIS SIDE of death! On THIS SIDE of the cross! When he tells them to keep awake, he was warning them not to miss what was about to happen … on Golgotha! on Calvary!
What if our future, lies behind us? What if we find our tomorrow, in our past? Our dreams, among our memories? Here in the church … Here among god’s people … all roads lead to Christ! To Christ and to Christ crucified! Keep awake! Keep your eyes open! It’s not what happens at the end of the story that’s important. It’s not what happens at the end that matters. It’s what happens – what happened – in the middle that’s full of meaning. In the suffering! In the crucifying! In dying and the burying! In the descending! And Jesus is telling his friends, “Don’t miss it!”
What better way to describe goodFriday? The sun darkened! The moon dimmed! Stars falling from the sky! Heaven itself shaken! That’s the day! The hour! When everything is changed forever! The heart and soul and the Revelation! The sum and substance of the Apocalypse! Armageddon! Antichrist! It’s all there! Friday afternoon! Two thousand years ago! On a dusty hilltop outside the walls of Jerusalem! When the world is raised up! When creation is born again! And just before it happens, Jesus says, “Keep awake!” Keep awake or you’ll miss it! The cross isn’t, simply, a sideshow. It’s not just a warmup act. It’s the drama itself! And the curtain rises just as Jesus says, “Keep awake!”
We don’t stake our life on something that hasn’t happened. We stake it on what is certain and sure! On the body given! On the blood shed! For us! For all! Faith isn’t anchored in wishful thinking! It’s rooted love! In god’s love! God’s love not just to the moon! But god’s love to hell and back! And that kind of love never goes away. That kind of love never leaves us!
So, my friends, please be careful. Don’t be deceived. Don’t be confused. Time – for us – doesn’t begin in Eden and it doesn’t end at the pearly gates. With the cross nothing more than a dot along the way. For us, it’s all about the cross! The cross is where it all begins! The cross where it all goes! The origin! Our destination! And Jesus tells us … Jesus tells us, this new year’s day … Open your eyes! Keep awake!