I have to admit that there is nothing scarier than picking up the reading for the week, finding out that it is all about the end of the world – or the world as it was known then – and realising there is an eerily familiar sound to it all.
Everything that we are experiencing these days will influence the way we read the Bible. The passages of refuge and safety like Ps 23 (The Lord is my shepherd) are more deeply felt and passages like the one for this morning have us looking over our shoulders.
And just as the earth may groan, so too might the preacher, the worship leader and the children’s leader faced with the prospect of coming up with something palatable to present against the backdrop of the darkness and destruction contained in this passage. Yet, we cannot escape from it. The Christian faith does not shy away from the fact that life is not easy: it presents challenge and demands a response. Life is a journey (“like a man going on a journey”) and we travel in both the Light and Darkness.
After Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple (Mark 13:2), Peter, James, John, and Andrew inquire, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (13:3-4) Jesus speaks of many troubling events that will occur before the end, starting with false prophets who will lead many astray. There will be wars and rumours of wars, earthquakes, and famines, but the end is not yet. “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs,” Jesus says (13:8).
The image of birth pangs is common in apocalyptic literature as a metaphor for speaking of the suffering that will be experienced before the end. It is ultimately a hopeful image, as it expresses a finality and purpose to the pain. The anguish will ultimately give way to new life, to a new creation.
I think I can safely draw some comparisons with where we feel we are now and this reading. The world has turned upside down, nothing is as it was even a week ago. Things will be different, these things of today will end and a new creation will emerge. I believe it will be one of greater kindness, more connection with each other and hopefully greater awareness of the wonderful creation we’ve been given.
For Jesus the challenge is the road to Jerusalem and the cross. With Christ’s death on the cross the world was cast into darkness, but with the resurrection we have been brought back into the light. It’s not long to wait now, for resurrection Sunday. It may look differently from Easter Sundays in the past, but the light that is revealed is still the same light, the light of the world.