Rev. David Williams
14th November 2021
Remembrance Sunday

Jesus’ discourse with his disciples in our Gospel reading about the end-time perhaps resonate more in times of acute global conflict and wars that transcend national boundaries. But even today we do not live in settled times and we read of the advances of forces hostile to Christianity (and indeed other religions) in different parts of the world. We learn of the massive dislocation and uprooting of people from so many countries, especially in the Middle East and north Africa. We hear of the cynical ferocity of fresh terrorist attacks. And we have Jesus’ words “Beware that no one leads you astray” speaking to us today, as acts of barbarity and evil are committed in the name of distorted branches of world religions which captivate the hearts and minds of their adherents.

Nor are Jesus’ words modified by what he goes on to say later in chapter 13, when he speaks of the personal cost of being a disciple, when some are disowned by their family, punished by civic authorities, and hated for speaking in his name. It may be difficult for us to reconcile the picture offered by Mark of our relationship with God cast in terms of violent punishment of sin in a series of cosmic disasters, with the over-arching vision in the Gospel of the promise of salvation in Christ.

Such a vision may not make things easier for victims of war, persecution, famine, drought and earthquakes. But it does make it possible to be purposeful about living in the time that is given to us, in the light of the knowledge that Christ has already won the victory for us, and that God’s kingdom will, in due time, be fully realised on earth.

So let’s look more closely at our Gospel reading, at the context in which it was written, and at what it may be saying to us today.

The passage consists of the opening verses from Mark chapter 13, which is known as the Little Apocalypse, where Jesus gives his teaching about the last things, and his Second Coming. The thirteenth chapter of Mark has a number of characteristics of what is known as apocalyptic literature: the prediction of times of tribulation, the anticipation of the end of the world in an imminent crisis, visions of cosmic upheaval, and the promise of God’s ultimate intervention. It draws on similar passages in the Old and New Testaments; and it reflects a movement of thought in the early church that the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time was potentially close at hand.

The whole of the discourse about the end–time points prophetically to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70. With powerful symbolism, and in order to deliver this discourse, Jesus moves away from the Temple down to the city gate and up to the Mount of Olives opposite. He is accompanied to the Mount of Olives by Peter, James, John and Andrew; these were the first four disciples who Jesus called, and here they are near the culmination of his earthly ministry.

The disciples initially marvel at the magnificence of the Temple constructed by King Herod the Great, across the valley – what large stones, what large buildings, they say – and indeed these stones were huge. One stone excavated stone from the Temple was found to be more then 15 metres in length and 2.5 metres in height. But Jesus says that these stones will be thrown down. And so they were, when the Romans under Titus, having brutally put down the Jewish rebellion in AD 70, set fire to the Temple and then systematically dismantled it and razed it to the ground. But the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple was not a sign of the end of the world, even though it was a major turning point in Jewish history.

Indeed, Jesus straight away gives a series of warnings against deceptive signs of the end-time: for example, the appearance of deceivers who purport to speak in God’s name but seek to lead members of the Christian community astray, and the occurrence of wars and upheavals of nature. And the underlying message of Jesus is that “the end is not yet.” And so the appropriate stance for the disciples is therefore to watch and to wait patiently, and to discern God’s Spirit. This is very much the theme of the Advent Season, which we will be reaching in just two weeks’ time – watching and waiting.

This doesn’t mean that we are to be reduced to a fearful inactivity, but to be watchful and expectant in working for the coming of God’s kingdom.
This short season between All Saints and Advent is known as the Kingdom season (with its red hanging and vestments), when we think of the coming of God”s kingdom and the ultimate kingship of Christ. This prospect ought to give our Christian witness and discipleship a sense of momentum, even urgency.

And our reading from Hebrews gives us good advice on how best to use this time of active waiting for the coming of God’s kingdom. Those who have received the hope and assurance of sins forgiven are to stimulate one another “to love and good deeds … not neglecting to meet together … but encouraging one another.”

And Mark chapter 13 assures us that we look to a sure and certain hope, founded on the promise of Jesus. And this will sustain us in times of difficulty and suffering. This is described in our Gospel reading as the beginning of the birth pangs, which signal the coming birth of new life, and the dawn of God’s new day.
Our historical situation is different from that of the early Church. The Temple may have been destroyed, but the Son of Man did not return in glory at the Second Coming during the lifetime of the disciples, or in the 2,000 years since then. And so, many people have quietly dismissed the vision of the Second Coming, and how we should live in readiness for it.

But Mark chapter 13 reminds us of God’s intervention in history. It strengthens our call to discipleship in the present. It warns us against the wiles of those who deceive. It sustains us in times of suffering, or even persecution. It quickens the common round of daily life by making us ready to see and welcome the presence of Jesus, our redeemer.

Today on Remembrance Sunday we honour especially those who have sacrificed their lives in the cause of justice and peace; and it gives us a special opportunity each year to remember especially those from this church community who died on active service in both World Wars of the last century. Today we confront issues of war and peace, of loss and self-offering, of thanksgiving, or sacrifice and redemption.

So why do people still need to sacrifice their lives, both in upholding the Gospel of Jesus, or in armed conflict to secure a safe and better world if the ultimate sacrifice has been made by Christ? In the fullness of time , God’s kingdom will come, and peace and justice will be known throughout the world. But although death’s hold on us has been broken, we must continue to work for a world which in due time will become free from sin and oppression, when Christ comes again and all the world has been won for him.

Hebrews 10.11-25
Mark 13.1-8