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"After that suffering"

Jesus says, “after that suffering,” when it seems like the very heavens are shaking, the Son of Man will come with great power and glory and gather his elect from where they have fled.

Detail of “Donkey, Llama, Goat, Sheep” by Eli Halpin

Mark 13:24-37

December 3, 2023

Dr. Todd R. Wright


Did you know that there are about 1000 Christians in Gaza? Well, there were, the last time anybody counted. But then, in the wake of the terrible Hamas attack on October 7th, it was reported that “Israeli airstrikes destroyed or damaged almost all the community’s homes in Gaza City.”[1]


George Anton was one of the 600 people who fled to St. Porphryrius Greek Orthodox Church, one of the oldest in the world. He and his wife and their three daughters thought they would be safe there, as people have been in previous rounds of fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces. But on October 19th an Israeli airstrike hit an outbuilding of the church killing eighteen men, women, and children sheltering there.


As a result, Anton, who works for the Roman Catholic charity Caritas, has had to have tough conversations with his daughters who are just eight, 10 and 12. In an interview he said, "I am telling them the whole truth. I say we are with Jesus, but I also tell them that they are in a war. Sometimes, I leave them to go to get bread, to bring medicine or clothes, and every time I go, I say, 'Goodbye. If I return back, all's ok. If not, guys, that's it.'"[2]

 

It has been several weeks now. I wonder how Anton and his family are doing. I wonder if they are still alive. And I wonder how they would respond to Mark 13.


I suspect they would nod knowingly to any text that begins with suffering and a darkened sun and stars falling from the sky like rockets.


I suspect they would identify with Mark’s congregation, still reeling from Rome’s

destruction of the Temple as part of brutally putting down the First Jewish Revolt in 70 AD.


But I think they would also appreciate Jesus’ attempt to give comfort; to offer hope.

 

This is not the first time God’s people have suffered.


As Anton and his fellow Palestinian Christians raise their voices in lament, their cries are joined with their Jewish and Muslim neighbors. As people of the book who hold Jerusalem to be a holy city, they can trace their shared wounds back in time. Before Rome, it was the Seleucids in 167 BC. (We were introduced to them in the Advent study on Monday.) Before that, it was the Babylonians back in 586 BC.


But God has always remained faithful.


Jesus says, “after that suffering,” when it seems like the very heavens are shaking, the Son of Man will come with great power and glory and gather his elect from where they have fled.

 

Anton and others have the right to ask, “When will this happen?” but Jesus does not give an answer, only that like a fig tree in Spring, the signs will be clear and the result will be inevitable.


Still, I find it interesting that he is speaking to his followers at the end of passion week.


He tells them to watch and wait, but also to keep working. To illustrate this, he tells a parable about slaves being put in charge while awaiting their master’s return. He says “You do not know when [he] will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”


David Lose picks up on those four time markers:[3]


“Note the way in which Mark divides the scenes leading up to the crucifixion,” he writes.


“1) The Last Supper, beginning, “When it was evening, he came with the twelve…”


2) Jesus’ prayer and betrayal: “And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy”. Why so tired? Because it was the middle of the night.


3) Jesus’ trial and Peter’s denial: “But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ At that moment the cock crowed for the second time”


4) Trial before Pilate: “As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate”.[4]


This is no accident. Mark is making a point. Lose says the moment “after that suffering”, the moment when the heavens shake and the sun is darkened, is “precisely the moment when, on the cross, we see God’s love poured out for us and all the world.” That’s a hopeful sign!

 

So how should we begin Advent, with Anton and all our brothers and sisters in Gaza?


Munther Isaac, pastor of Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church intends to set up a small Nativity scene with rocks and debris piled atop it. “’This is what Christmas now means to us – that we see Jesus being born among those who have lost everything, who are under the rubble,’ Isaac said.”[5] That’s a sign too!


I suppose it would look something like this:


[Set up Mary and Joseph wee people and surround with some bricks, 2 x 4s, and rocks.]


And then, as inevitably happens, people will add …

the scattered remains of a destroyed car,

a sandal found in the rubble,

a coffee cup that somehow survived,

a child’s toy,

an icon

some flowers,

and perhaps a bit of Augustine’s prayer:


“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night … “ Amen.


[1] From “Why Christmas is canceled in Bethlehem” by Ishaan Tharoor, in the Washington Post, 11/29/23
[2] From “Gaza’s Christians fear for survival amid Israel Hamas war” by Yolanda Knell, for BBC News, 11/6/23
[3] From his reflection on the text, “If the World Were to End” for workingpreacher.org, 11/20/11
[4] See Mark 14:17, 14:40, 14:71-72a, and 15:1.
[5] From “Why Christmas … “ by Ishannn Tharoor
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