Our Church year is ending. Next week we will proclaim Christo Re… Christ the King… the Reign of Christ… the objective of the entire Christian narrative. But as we are always instructed on this next-to-last Sunday of the liturgical year, that reign will come in with a bang, not with a whimper. Luke’s gospel for this event is not the most apocalyptic account by far. John and Mark more graphically illustrate the perils that will signal the end of days. In Luke’s gospel Jesus initially predicts an end of days on a much smaller, more immediate scale… the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.
He then goes on to tell of the turmoil in nature and among people that will plague the earth. And if that isn’t bad enough, Jesus puts all his followers on notice that we will be singled out for persecution, betrayal and hatred: all because of (his) name. Then suddenly Jesus stands this whole doomsday scenario on its head. In the face of cataclysm, Jesus tells us: Not a hair on your head will perish.
How can this be? How can we escape the apocalypse? How do we dodge the bullet aimed at every Christian? Over thousands of years and countless generations, Jesus speaks directly to us with the freshness of this morning: By your endurance you will gain your souls. The operative word leaps at us from the page: endurance.
To me it conjures up images of marathon runners struggling towards a finish line, then collapsing in exhaustion. Is that what lies in store for us… physically and spiritually hanging on by our fingernails? Is that God’s plan for us? No way! We are here to rejoice in the Lord always… in good times and bad, in celebration and in persecution. In fact that is the only way that we can truly endure… by rejoicing in the Lord. The Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ. And the best news is that we are not in this race by ourselves. Jesus is with us every step of the way. We need not rely on training, conditioning or dieting for our endurance. His grace is the source of our strength. To endure, we must constantly seek it, pray for it, cling to it.
Because Jesus loves us, he always tells us the truth, even when it is hard to find the good news behind the dire predictions. Luke 21 is the last chapter before the Passion. Jesus clearly sees what he must endure for our sake. He looks beyond his looming agony and foretells what we must endure for his sake. To carry us home, Jesus will soon carry his cross. To follow him home, we must carry our cross, too. For some of us, the cross is relatively light: minor inconveniences, petty prejudices, snide remarks, negative peer pressure, constantly navigating a world of vanishing values. For others the cross literally means martyrdom, either by the sword or by institutional prejudice. A recent study found that fifty countries had official anti-Christian statutes and practices with sanctions ranging from death to imprisonment, harassment to expulsion.
So Christian life is more than a marathon; it can also be a treacherous obstacle course. Expect to be tripped. Expect to fall. Endurance means more than just chugging along. We must regularly pick ourselves up and get back in the race. For endurance we look not only to the cross, we look to the Resurrection. That’s because we know how this story ends… not in tragedy, but in triumph. That is the source of our strength, our hope, our joy. As Paul instructs us in Hebrews 12: Lets us run with perseverance…looking to Jesus…who endured the cross… so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. Thank you, Jesus. In your love we rejoice and endure.
Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, The Reverend David Sellery serves as an Episcopal priest who seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, congregational development and community outreach, while continually engaging our wider culture with dynamism and hope.