My friends, times away, as Robert and I experienced these last three weeks are good, reflective experiences as the time away from daily tasks and concerns, allows us to focus on the perhaps, deeper meanings of what each of us takes for granted in the comfort of our own homes. Even this aspect, “the comfort of our own homes” was called into question for us as we traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to check out what was happening there. Our intent was not to be active, but just to observe.
The fact that became clear to me after going through several check points in our country near the border was that we would never be detained, because of course; we had the right color of skin! The questioning from the very cordial border patrol people went something like this: “Hello folks, are you both U.S. citizens? Our response—“Yes.” Where are you heading?” We usually said we were from Minnesota and heading home, just here vacationing. We were then asked if we had anyone in back to which we answered, “No.” Now, we could have had the whole back of our camper full of immigrants (which we didn’t), but they didn’t ask to look, nor did we have to actually prove that we were U.S. citizens. But again; we had the right color of skin! I had to believe that if I was dark-skinned; I would have had to show my papers and our car would have been searched—we saw as much at these stops when dark-skinned individuals came through.
But amid events like this that were a bit disconcerting; we did experience many wonderful days marveling at the grandeur of this beautiful country that we call home. In the midst of gigantic, sequoia trees one can only look up and say, “Wow!” Trees that tower above you more than 200 feet, that have lived thousands of years makes my own life seem, minuscule in the face of that!
We saw cliff sides in Yosemite National Park in California that again, left us speechless in their grandeur. Arches in stone in Utah in the Arches National Park carved beautifully by Mother Nature over eons, deserts that go on and on in their dryness, yet muted, beautiful colors.
We even took some time to visit a sister of Robert’s and her husband in Arizona as part of our trek south and west spending time sharing life memories and of how those experiences made them who they are—they smiled remembering, we laughed and enjoyed each other.
I can’t do justice to all we saw, experienced, thought about, meditated on in our time away, but I can say, gratitude is a great part of what I feel as I look back on these days—gratitude to those who cared for our doggie, and other things around home and church and gratitude for the opportunity just to be away.
This time of year in the Church calendar calls us as well to this deep kind of reflection, something that is good to do whether we can leave our homes for a time or not. Today’s readings bring us to the end of our Church Year, a good time to look back, assess our times of faith and living out of that faith as well as a time to look forward, with hope to a new season, Advent, in just two weeks. Next Sunday we will celebrate in a very special way, Jesus, our brother, our model, our friend and with gratitude, look to him in thanksgiving for showing us the way, the truth and the life.
Today’s readings speak of “end times” and without proper understanding of the true meaning of these readings, they can be disturbing. First, we have to understand that the ancient Israelite people had a concept of two different times—the “end times” and “the end of time.” The end times were thought to be a time of transition, when suffering and hard times would be no more, when the Chosen One, whom Christians believe is Jesus, the Christ, will come again in glory to make all things right and the kin-dom will be celebrated before the face of God, in that wonderful reality. It is a tremendously hope-filled image that is attractive to many people. The cinema has played into this image of a time of justice when good, will reign—in the epic series, The Lord of the Rings, and in the Star Wars movies.
The “end of time” is another time, and when that time will come, none of us knows, or in fact understands just how it will be—it would appear that Jesus, in his humanity didn’t even know. We will just have to trust that all will unfold according to God’s loving plan. The reading from Hebrews today says as much—that in fact, in Jesus, all will be well.
So why, we might ask, are we given frightening images—of the sun and moon going dark—of stars falling from the sky? The reading from Mark has an apocalyptic tone, and part of that, the exegetes tell us, was a way to cover the subversive tone of these writings from the enemies of the people.
The Israelites were told overtime, that what they were suffering would come to an end—the Chosen One would come to alleviate their sufferings—this was their hope. This knowledge that their God did hear their cries and would come to save them, gave them the will to go on. In faith, we must believe the same, especially in these times of mass murders through firearms that we as a people can do something about. Through cataclysmic fires and storms brought on by climate change, also within our power to fix.
It has been thought that the reference to the “heavens and earth passing away” referred to the destruction of Jerusalem. It encouraged fidelity when the people’s world seemed to be crumbling around them. And for each of us, this type of reading gives us courage in our struggles through life because there is reason to hope—we are not alone, our God is with us. Mark tells us today that “the heavens and the earth may pass away, but not Jesus’ words”—God will always be with us.
The placing of the “end times” reading on this weekend is appropriate as our Church Year is winding down, setting the stage for the wonderful season of Advent. This weekend’s readings serve then as a beginning to a time of transition in our Church Year, but also in our personal lives. They also remind us of the end of time, whenever and however that might come to be. The end of time—our personal time, when our life as we know it, comes to a close, need not frighten us if we strive in our lives to do our best, always keeping our eyes on Jesus, who truly shows us the way. The thought then of our God—Jesus, the Christ, coming “in the clouds,” with great power and glory,” should bring us joy and anticipation, not fear and dread.
Many people over time, from those people who were the first Christians, followers of Jesus, thought that the “end times” were inaugurated with Jesus and that the end of time would follow shortly. Jesus, they thought, had come to make all things right, get us on the path of goodness—mercy, love, justice, compassion and once we got it, Jesus would return and take us all, the faithful, with him, to heavenly glory. It seems it has taken us all, collectively, longer to “get it” then those first Christians thought. It is evident, if we look around our world that there is still much that we as a nation need “to get” our heads, but mostly, our hearts around, and at the same time, much to be hopeful about as well. And when the end of time will come, no one knows, and perhaps it is not something we need worry about, but rather, to concentrate on the transition in our own lives.
As we look around our world, the culture in both Church and State seems to be in need of some deep reflection and transition—from a culture that seems to be about the individual more than about the collective, especially those most in need. In Daniel’s first reading; we read also about, “a time of turmoil,” and Daniel’s counsel that, “the wise will shine like the bright heavens.” Friends, let us pray today and each day that we will find within ourselves the strength, the will, to be those “bright lights” doing the piece that is ours to do.
This week then, as we ever so relentlessly move toward the end of our Church Year, anticipating the beautiful season of Advent, recalling that our brother Jesus is always with us, showing us the way, let us pray for each other that we might let his example of truth, goodness and justice for all seep into our hearts in order that our encounters with others might more regularly move from the surface to become empathic encounters, true communions with them, and through them, with our loving God. Amen? Amen!