As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs. -Mark 13:1-8
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." Mark 13:1-2
This time of year the church asks us to consider the end-times. It’s good for the soul, good for the church, good for our sense of compassion, a reality check on human life, projects, civilzation.
The prompts open with an “old chestnut” hymn verse. A tongue-in-cheek observation from Alain de Botton puts anticipating the end in perspective (meditation one). An entry from Merton’s diary reflects the apocalyptic inevitable, but with the sense that, in the end, love is everlasting (meditation two). Even facing the end times, realistic hope and struggle to sacrifice for future is ethically demanded of us (meditation three).
Please notice the gorgeous prayer on the closing in of that final night by Ephraem the Syrian.
From the Edge of the Apocalypse, -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit)
tower and temple fall to dust
Mortal pride and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray our trust;
though with care and toil we build them,
tower and temple fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
is my temple and my tower.
- Robert Seymour Bridges (1844-1930) after Joachim Neander (1650-1680) Hymnal 1982 # 665 (All my hope on God is founded)
The Ancient Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus is said to have demanded of a heart-broken friend whose house had burnt to the ground, ‘If you really understand what governs the universe, how can you yearn for bits of stone and pretty rock?’ (It is unclear how much longer the friendship lasted.) Legend recounts that after hearing the voice of God, the Christian hermit Alexandra sold her house, shut herself in a tomb and never looked at the outside world again, while her fellow hermit Paul of Scete slept on a blanket on the floor of a windowless mud hut and recited 300 prayers every day, suffering only when he heard of another holy man who had managed 700 and slept in a coffin.
-Alain de Botton The Architecture of Happiness (2006)
detail from Isaiah Requesting, Paris Psalter, 975, The figure is Nyx (night) - the lowered torch represents the end of all things.
In that hour when darkness like a cloak shall be spread over all things, may your grace, O Lord, shine on us in the place of the earthly sun.On that day when all people are called to earthly burial, make us worthy, O Lord, to rejoice in heavenly rest.In that day when all darkness shall cease, and all are freed from weariness, grant, O Lord, that we may take our delight in the joys of the life to come.
-Ephraem the Syrian306-373sermon 13(quoted from Gail Ramshaw’s Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary)
Apocalypse, French, Unknown Weaver, c1380
At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book.Daniel 12:1
Although this image of Michael slaying the dragon of the Apocalypse is from the Book of Revelation, it evokes this week’s text from Daniel.Notice John contemplating the scene from his “prayer palace.”
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. -Hebrews 10:24-25
Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. -Daniel 12:3
The Fall of Babylon, Bamberg Apocalypse, c.1020
Meditation Two (insight)
nothing but love
Sooner or later the world must burn, and all things in it – all the books, the cloister together with the brothel, Fra Angelico together with the Lucky Strike ads which I haven’t seen for seven years because I don’t remember seeing one in Louisville. Sooner or later it will all be consumed by fire and nobody will be left – for by that time the last man in the universe will have discovered the bomb capable of destroying the universe and will have been unable to resist the temptation to throw the thing and get it over with.
And here I sit writing a diary.
But love laughs at the end of the world because love is the door to eternity and he who loves God is playing on the doorstep of eternity, and before anything can happen love will have drawn him over the sill and closed the door and he won’t bother about the world burning because he will know nothing but love.
- Thomas Merton 1915-1968 The Sign of Jonas
Meditation Three (integration) let us plant dates
What is hope? It is the pre-sentiment that imagination is more real, and reality less real than it looks. It is the suspicion that the overwhelming brutality of facts that oppress us and repress us is not the last word. It is the hunch that reality is more complex than the realists want us to believe. That the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual. And that in a miraculous and unexpected way, life is preparing the creative events which will open the way to freedom and to resurrection. But, the two, suffering and hope, must live from each other. Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair. But hope without suffering creates illusions, naivete, and drunkenness. So let us plant dates, even though we who plant them will never eat them. We must live by the love of what we will never see. This is the secret of discipline. It is a refusal to let our creative act be dissolved away by our own need for immediate sense experience. And it's a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren. Such disciplined love is what has given saints, revolutionaries, and martyrs the courage to die for the future they envisage. They make their own bodies the seed of their own highest hopes.”
Ruben Alvez b. 1933 Tomorrow's Child
The Last Word
I’ve seen the nations rise and fall
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all
But love’s the only engine of survival.
-Leonard CohenThe Future (exerpt)
In all chaos there is a cosmos;
in all disorder a secret order.
-C.G. Jungc. 1930
It's pure wisdom that the church year ends and begins with apocalypse. The Reign of Christ Sunday, sandwiched between them, transitions us between ultimate endings.
The church asks you and I as individuals and as a people, to face our deepest fears – not only death, but annihilation. The practical side of this exercise can help prepare us for real disaster: what's the worst-case-scenario? What do we need to do now? The spiritual side shakes us up to the very core of our being. Without that shake-up, you're unlikely to get to the heart of the Real.
"Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." -Mark 13:1-2
The Temple was the center of everything: worship, culture, sacrifice, salvation, tradition, family gatherings - the power grid of a people, and the holy dwelling place of God.
Apocalypse, although associated with the sun going dark, the moon not giving it's light, the stars falling, earthquakes, and fire and destruction, literally means “unveiling.” The lifting of the veil, opening the curtain. Revealing. Revelation.
When the actual building is “unveiled” - not one stone will be left here upon another. - what is it that we see? What is being revealed in these events?
Vulnerability, for sure.
And that nothing, absolutely nothing, is a sure thing.
And what is real? What is at the heart of everything? What is at the heart of your own heart?
Knowing that, is knowing what Judgment Day is.
The ending. And the beginning.
It is no accident that we've been born in these times, that we find our lives unfolding now, with our particular histories and gifts, our brokenness, our experience, and our wisdom. It is not an accident. In talking about the fate of the earth, we know that its fate is really up for grabs. There are no guarantees as to its future. It is a question of our own critical choices. Perhaps what we need most is a transforming vision, a vision that's deep enough, one that can take us from where we are to a new place; one that opens the future up to hope. More than anything, we must become people of hope.