It was going to strike us all down on the 1st of January 2000, as all the technology on which our society depends ground to a halt…
Some people decamped to the outer Hebrides, to adopt a life of self sufficiency on a croft…some others (and I have to admit that included me) made sure that we had a few extra supplies of essential stashed away, just in case….no more than I tended to lay in anyway, as part of living in a Cotswold village reached only by a very minor road which was often blocked in winter….but all the same…
And we waited with a mixture of fear and bravado and suddenly we were well into January and nothing had happened.
It could have been a major anticlimax – but on the whole, we were pretty relieved.
For all the significance of a nice round 2000, it didn’t seem that the world was going to end yet awhile…and because it’s a beautiful world, filled with people we love, that seemed like a cause for rejoicing.
So we went back to trusting that life as we know it would continue, if not for ever, then at least long enough to see us out.
We went back to cherishing the various security blankets we have fashioned…including, of course, our buildings…beautiful churches, breathtaking Cathedrals….
“What large stones and what large buildings…”
At least we know we are part of a long, if not specially honourable, tradition.
The disciples were similarly preoccupied – and maybe they too were inclined to notice the immediate (the splendour of the Temple) without remembering it’s purpose as a sign of God in their midst.
The Temple was at the heart of their visible identity as Jews – the focus of worship and pilgrimage, the centre of sacrifice. It was something to marvel at, something to be proud of…but was never intended as an end in itself. Perhaps they had got stuck..
Whatever was going on for them, Jesus undoubtedly shook them up as he warned them to expect all kinds of trouble – demolition of all that seemed solid and secure…confused messages about whom they should follow…wars and rumours of wars.
This week we’ve celebrate the anniversary of a wall falling down – but we’ve heard too of decisions on the trial of the 9/11 terrorists and that image of the twin towers falling is an icon of our time…a symbol of wealth and security, reduced to dust.
Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down
It doesn’t sound good, does it?
And that’s just the prelude…
War and civil war, famine and earthquake – no it definitely doesn’t sound good, but it might just sound rather familiar.
At this point, of course, many turn to a kind of internal “end of the world” checklist and start totting up the score and expecting something huge and dramatic any day now…but I think that in doing that they might just be missing the point.
Jesus tells his disciples that all these awful things will happen…but I somehow don’t imagine his purpose is to scare them, or indeed to give them a kind of “Last days countdown”.
In fact, he makes it very clear that his purpose is NOT to frighten them as he says in as many words
“DO NOT BE ALARMED. This must take place”
It would be easy to see those words and assume that all the miserable and frightening things that happen are just “Part of God’s plan”
But for me that attitude is no help at all.
It either suggests a cruelly remote God, who doesn’t care what happens, but rides rough-shod over his creation intent on ensuring his purposes are fulfilled, Or it allows us to abdicate responsibility for our collective actions.
Wars come about through human decisions, and so are avoidable.
Some of the famines could be bypassed if only we learned to love.
I’m convinced that God’s plan is not to subject any part of creation to pain and suffering – though I’ve no answer to the great question “O God, why?” which we ask again and again as we experience the brokenness of life.
Perhaps that’s a question for another time…
So I’d prefer to suggest that though wars, famines, earthquakes are frightening, hurtful, we are invited to see beyond them. Do not be alarmed…
Destructive and unhappy things are not to be part of God’s plan, but we can trust that that plan for ultimate flourishing holds good no matter what seems to be lying in its way.
Do not be alarmed.
Jesus uses striking language for a man…for he compares all the struggles of creation to birth pangs at the start of labour
As contractions come thick and fast, there’s often a point at which many women just want to say
“Forget it…I don’t want a baby THAT much. Let’s just halt the process here and now and go back to normality”
But of course that’s not an option.
The pangs of labour are the essential prelude to the birth of a child, the pain and fear and danger a precursor to something wonderful, the coming of a new life into the world. In using this image Jesus is trying to reassure us that God’s love will not be deflected in the face of cataclysm…
Do not be alarmed.
This whole passage is, in fact, an exercise in hope – the hope that fills the prophecy of Daniel that we heard earlier, the hope voiced in our Collect, that through Christ we are heirs of life everlasting
in this holy sacrament
you give substance to our hope:
bring us at the last
to that fulness of life for which we long
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.