Friday Focus: Rejoice and Endure
They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"
And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. - Luke 21: 5-19
Our Church year is ending. Next week we will proclaim Cristo Rey… 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 come to plague the earth. And if that isn’t bad enough, Jesus puts all of 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 that 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 that leaps at us from the page is endurance.
To me it conjures up images of marathon runners struggling towards a finish line; then collapsing in complete exhaustion. Is that what lies in store for us… physically and spiritually hanging on by our fingernails? Dragging ourselves into heaven, 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, always. 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, cling to it, rejoice in it.
Because Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, he always tells us the truth, even when it is hard for us 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. But he looks beyond his looming agony and tells us what we must endure for his sake. To carry us home, Jesus will soon carry his cross. To follow him home, each of us must carry our cross, too. For some, 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; at times it can be a deadly 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.