We want to know how things end. How pandemics end. How interpersonal conflicts end. How the world––whatever world we currently occupy––ends.
There has always been a desire to know the ending.
I’ve had a lot of cause to think about endings this year. In January, me and my husband of 12 years (15 together), decided, for a variety of good reasons, it was time for us to finish our marriage. We didn’t decide it was time to “get a divorce” or to “break up.” We decided it was time to finish what we had begun back in 2008.
We started the marriage in love and we were determine to end the marriage in love.
We would love and care for one another throughout the process as best we could, helping the other to transition into life as a single person: moving each other into new apartments, talking with each other about new experiences and changes and challenges.
We loved our way through the end of a marriage into something else.
The ending was not an end, full stop. It was a transition; a process. And the process has its own birth pangs. It has been, to borrow the common title of today’s Gospel passage from Mark, a “Little Apocalypse.”
The term apocalypse gets a bad rap. The foreshadowing Jesus offers his disciples about the apocalyptic ending coming their way serves as a blueprint for how most of us understand apocalypse. War, famine, destruction, the desecration of all-things sacred; phenomena not limited to first century Palestine. There has never not been a time when human beings did not harm each other with our violence, neglect, and hatred.
But the uncritical trends of biblical literalism and End Times prophecy have contaminated the Church, making it hard to hear these words and not want to read the news for clues about when exactly the end is coming. We want to know how things end.
But our obsession with knowing the ending can interfere with our ability to learn what the ending might mean. The meaning is what matters, not the timing, and the meaning of the word apocalypse is missed when we get tripped up on the dramatic imagery of a violent end.
An apocalypse is a revealing. That’s more what the Greek is getting at. It’s a pulling back of theheavenly veil to show the truth of some earthly thing. An apocalypse is a reckoning; a crisis of meaning that requires us to reevaluate everything.
An apocalypse is like that moment in the hospital waiting room, after the fatal news was delivered by the doctor, when you realize that everything you knew no longer applies, because everything has changed and will never be the same.
The apocalypse is not the death of the person; the apocalypse is the death of the paradigm you once knew to be your life.
Jesus––the truth of Jesus, the challenge of Jesus, the disorientation of Jesus––is the lens through which we are called to see the little and big apocalipses of our lives.
The temples fall, the church buildings are mostly empty, but Jesus is focussed on the well-being of his disciples.
Do not be alarmed, he says. This mess was expected, and though it’s an end, it’s not The End. Marriages end, plans change, and death happens. But beware that you are not led astray by anything that pretends to be love, but that is actually something different.
The endings of our imagination are often more cataclysmic than the endings that show up in our actual lives. I mean, unless they’re not. But regardless of whether it is the temple we have built of stone or the temple we have built of story, when it falls, we will feel scared and maybe even hopeless. We may wonder where God is.
And God is there, sitting with us on the mountain side, looking down at Jerusalem, whatever place we have made that we consider sacred and too precious to change.
And God will say, Do not be alarmed when the world you thought you knew ends. Do not be led into something new by anything other than the love I have for you and the love that I am calling you to share with the world.
Do not let your heart be broken by the violence of your own wounded imagination.
For you are beloved. You are loved. And you are mine, God says.
This is the covenant that I make with you after this ends, says the Lord:
I will put my law of love
in your hearts,
and I will write it on your minds,
and you will find a way
to love yourselves
and love each other
through the pain of every
Because that is what God is doing, every day in every one of us: loving us through the end.
into something new.
In the name of the one whose own ending is the ultimate beginning, our brother and liberator, Jesus.