Delivered at Christ Church, Alexandria, VA Nov. 14, 2021
Scripture: Mark 13:1-8
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
I really love parishes with cemeteries. Before I knew anything else about this parish, I noticed that it had a churchyard with a cemetery. They remind us of our mortality, while proclaiming our lack of fear over death, and our belief in the communion of saints both with us and before us, among other things. Noelle has told me that during the civil war, parishioners, facing the potential reality of the doom of war and the destruction of their city, removed all of the headstones and placed them in safe storage.
When the parishioners of long ago saw that the signs of their departed could be erased, they instead held onto hope that one day they would be restored, placing these headstones in a place where they could be recovered when peace again reigned over their city. We have now lived 156 years past the end of the civil war with the headstones still intact, reminding us not only of the church’s history, but of Christ’s own defeat of death and resurrection.
The Gospel reading is as uncomfortable for the disciples to hear as it is for us. Jesus was suggesting that the temple – the holiest spot on earth, the focal point of Jewish life, the one thing that stood as a symbol of nationhood and sovereignty in the face of Roman occupation – would be torn to the ground and obliterated. If you go on to read, Jesus speaks of brother turning against brother, persecution, flogging, and other terrible, terrible things.
It is equally difficult for us to contemplate the end of our society, even with all of its imperfections, especially to things like natural and human disasters. It is especially easy for us to blow by this passage given our healthy skepticism for those shouting on the street corners that the “end is near,” usually paired with some very un-Christlike messages. But I venture to suggest that we often avoid this more than any other reason because it is massively uncomfortable. This passage challenges the way that we want things to end, the desires that we have to be peaceful and loving and see no suffering and we simply cannot imagine a God that promises otherwise.
And yet, amid all of these things, Christ tells us not to be alarmed, and instead recognize that this is like a new birth; that all of these things are simply leading to something greater – something that we should have hope in.
The Book of Common Prayer offers us that the Christian hope as, “to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world.” In other words, we must faithfully live fully into our lives here on Earth but also look forward to the day that Christ comes back and changes everything.
There is a dual commitment. We must go through life now recognizing that there is no closer and fuller communion with God than through Jesus Christ. In baptism, we joined this eternal family, and we experience this means of grace every time we approach the altar. There is also a commitment to wait. This commitment means that we realize that this is not the permanent set-up, and instead that we can put our hope in the world that is to come.
Due to these commitments, God requires us to enter all of the terriblenesses of the world, offering a hope that transcends all of the things that we can imagine. Since we understand the liminality of this place, it makes it easier for us to work towards justice for our neighbors despite the earthly systems that hold us down, to love with abandon, and to speak prophetically to the issues of our own time. This commitment means that we are free to fully and unabashedly pursue the world that God offers a place in creating.
Just as our church’s ancestors during the civil war hoped in a better world, despite every indication that their city faced peril, we should do also. And just as they allowed this parish to be used throughout the war, we also have an obligation to our world to proclaim our hope in Jesus Christ even among trials and tribulation.
Our challenge as Christians is not to seek to preserve the systems that we live within for eternity, but to join God in work he is doing among us now, knowing that one day, Christ will come again, and the world will be restored to the fullness that God offers. Amen.