As the Church year draws to a close we find the readings often turn to sombre warnings. This language, with its bold images, can be rather alarming, especially when it refers to the end times. Often it seems to fit our world. Look around you and what do you see? Corruption in high places. Economic collapse. Rockets flying over the Holy Land. It’s tempting to think that this all fits the pattern of predictions about the end times, but the truth is that every age has its stresses and strains. Moreover, when we are tempted to read into our times the prophecies about the end, we ought to repeat to ourselves the words we hear in the gospel: As for that day and hour, nobody knows it’ (Mk 13.32).
Passages like the gospel today (Mk 13.24-32) and the first reading (Dan. 12.1-3) invite us to think about where our true security is to be found. The words of Jesus that we read today are preceded by an incident when he is leaving the Temple with his disciples. Someone admires the enormous, honey-coloured stones with which the Temple is built. Jesus says that one day little will remain of it, and shortly afterwards, seated with his disciples on the Mount of Olives, they are gazing across the valley at the Temple. He begins to speak of false messiahs, of wars, famines and persecution. But, he says, the one who endures to the end will be saved.
There is a security in our faith. It links us to the living God, the author of life itself, and although we pray to be spared suffering and turmoil, we know that there are such things in the world, and we pray also that in the time of trial, God may be with us to strengthen us and give us courage. The bricks, stones, glass and concrete that make churches and temples have their place, but ultimately they are there to build up the invisible Temple, namely, the Body of Christ, in which people of every race, language and nation find their home and their peace.
What, I wonder, are we to make of 13.30: ‘Before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place.’ We might read it as a prophecy of the crucifixion and the terrible events surrounding it. Or we might interpret ‘generation’ metaphorically, as referring to the people of faith of every age. Each of us, you might say, belongs to this generation, the generation of those who come to know and God in and through Jesus Christ. His words, as he reminds us, will never pass away (v. 31). Here is our security and our peace, even in times of turmoil and distress. Our first reading from Daniel 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. Yes, there is conflict, but 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.
Fr Terry Tastard is Parish Priest of St Mary's, East Finchley, in north London.