Father Terry writes:
I’ve lost track of the disaster movies that I have seen advertised. Every few years seems to bring a new film, showing civilisation threatened by nuclear holocaust, or relentless snow, or earthquake, or some other terrible cataclysmic event. Why, I wonder, are these films so popular? I think it is because they allow our fears to come out, in a way that we can acknowledge without despair. For example, disaster films these days often have some fearsome weather event at the centre of the story. This is not surprising, given our anxieties today about climate change. Films such as these help us deal with our fears by bringing them to the surface and portraying them in a safe context, in which there is human triumph over adversity.
The readings at Mass today tell us that these fears are also the kind of fears that have been felt by generations in ages past. Always, as the end of the Church’s year approaches, we read from the kind of scripture that is called apocalyptic. This deals with the end times, with the end of the world, in fact. Time and space will come to an end. The world as we know it will come to an end. God’s purpose for creation will become clear as all is revealed. These are the themes of apocalyptic literature in the Bible. Sometimes these readings can seem strange or even frightening to us, but they are not intended to frighten us but to reassure us. They tell us that no matter how hopeless things seem in the world, there is always hope, because even although God may be hidden from us, he is still present in his creation and loves his sons and daughters. In Christ he draws us back to himself, in good times and in bad times.
Our first reading from Daniel 12.1-3 has the figure of Michael standing guard over the people of God. It is a hint to us of something like spiritual warfare, in which the hosts of God do battle on behalf of his people. Evil will never have the last word or the upper hand. Moreover, the victory has already been won, as we are reminded in our second reading (Hebrews 10). Christ, the sinless one, has entered the eternal sanctuary to bring with him all who share his life by faith and baptism.
In the gospel itself (Mark 13.24-32) in which Jesus speaks of signs and portents. Jesus’ words that we hear have been triggered by an earlier comment in which the disciples speak admiringly of the huge stones with which the Temple is built. The sombre words with which Jesus responded to them must have come as a shock. He is saying that ultimately we trust not a building, but a living relationship with God through him. Buildings and institutions exist to bring us deeper into that relationship with God. As the American evangelist Rick Warren is fond of saying, it is the people not the steeple that really matter. Today’s scriptures may seem troubling, but they tell us that God has bound himself to his people in love, and in that eternal relationship is our security and our peace. Signs and wonders come and go, just as buildings come and go. Only what God builds will truly last for ever.