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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 33, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
November 18, 2012

Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14,18; Mark 13:1-8

It’s the end of the world as we know it

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke each conclude with long eschatological-apocalyptic discourses by Jesus to which Passion narratives (accounts of the crucifixion) have been added. As first-world, modern-liberal believers we mostly ignore the strong theme of eschatology-apocalypse in our gospels. We are either embarrassed by it, or we make fun of those in the tradition who speak of it, sometimes to the point of obsession. God be with you

What do these terms mean? Eschatology is theology with a focus on the “last things” (Greek: eschaton = end) and deals with doctrines about the end of the world, final judgement and the afterlife. It looks forward to a better time, either in terms of another realm, heaven, or a radically transformed earth, the kin(g)dom of God. Apocalyptic is a common variant of this end-time theology and its particular hallmark is the assumption that the anticipated new age will arrive after a divine intervention. Apocalyptic preachers and their writings are typically concerned to stress the extreme evil of the present world in contrast to idyllic conditions of the world to come.

Eschatological and apocalyptic views are highly political. They claim via visions of a new epoch that the current status quo is anything but idyllic or godly, and that the reign of God can come only by way of radical change. This style of literature radically undercuts the state’s claims to divine blessing. As such, it is a literature common to those with little stake in the present age: the marginalised, the poor and rejected. We know its strongest expression in African-American spirituals; it is strongly present, also, in Africa and Latin America. In Australia it is strong among Aboriginal forms of Christianity, both evangelical and catholic, where it serves as a means of holding to hope – God’s vindication to come – when there seems to be no hope at all.

The icon we have before us today is of Nano Nagle, an Irish woman who co-founded the radical order to which Sr Anne Jordan of Cana Communities belongs. The Order is the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, or the Presentation Sisters, and the story of Nano Nagle begins in 18th-century Cork at a time when English colonialism was brutal. Thousands of Irish-Catholic children suffered poverty, exploitation and abuse.

The artist has chosen a youthful image of Nano Nagle, alive with colour. She stands in calm majesty, suggestive of patience and endurance. In the centre of the icon (just beneath the image as we have it) the Sacred Heart of Jesus is depicted. At Nano’s feet is a group of children. The side panels of the icon (parts of which are shown in our image) elaborate some of the events and symbols of Nano Nagle’s life. These include: spiral motifs, the Celtic symbol of eternity and of Abba God; the tabernacle, recalling Nano Nagle’s devotion to the Eucharist; a tiny window illuminating a cramped room, suggesting the poverty-stricken conditions of the cabin schools she established in defiance of the Penal laws; Nano Nagle holding a book, a symbol of literacy and learning, which she so highly prized; the four founding sisters, standing near a well of living water; the gallows, a reminder of the conditions under which the Irish-Catholic people lived during the days of the Penal laws which sought to destroy their identity; Nano Nagle caring for the sick; Nano Nagle with her lantern, a symbol of her joyful spirit and of her devotion to the poor.

We have this icon today not just as an inspiring example of fiery faith in God (a kind of eschatological hope for a world to come), but also because this week sees the opening of Nagle House, Cana’s newest community, on the Feast Day of the Presentation, or Presentation Day (Wednesday the 21st of November). Nagle House in Flinders Street, Darlinghurst, will provide a safe space for up to seven women in need of support towards healing and wholeness.

In the presence of eschatological-apocalyptic texts and stories I can sometimes feel disoriented, challenged to rethink my notion of Jesus the gentle teacher of wisdom. Not that I feel called to reject gentleness or wisdom, but that I sense I am only just beginning to understand and respond to good news for the poor; that I have lent but not fully given my life; that I am yet to experience the freedom of life with Christ in the kin(g)dom of God. That’s both humbling and thrilling – my life opens again to God’s future. It’s the end of the world as I know it, to paraphrase one of my favourite songs by REM, but I feel fine …

By attaching the apocalypse to the temple (“huge stones … wonderful buildings”), Mark wants to inform us that while the temple had recently been destroyed by the Romans (in the time of Mark’s writing) it had already been destroyed in that Jesus had symbolically destroyed it by his entry into Jerusalem and the overturning of the tables. His sacrificial death also marked an end to sacrifices in the temple (which is the meaning of our Hebrews reading). By linking the triumph of God in the final judgement to an account of the Passion, Mark is making the claim that despite the greatest evil that can be done, as seen in the horrific death of one as good as Jesus, evil does not have the final word.

Apocalyptic is the literature of hope for the most oppressed and suffering. Mark is showing us that the evil experienced by readers in the first century (at the hands of the Emperor Nero), the same sort of evil experienced by Jesus, is not the final word. The final word is with God and the triumph of good. That is what apocalyptic is all about. It serves as a means of enduring present oppression in the knowledge that God will offer vindication. In all our work for justice (and there is none more urgent than that toward abuse-awareness and transparency with regard to reporting abuse) we need to be fortified and nourished by this living water. The power of evil is strong but God’s promise is that evil – oppression, injustice, brutality, exploitation and abuse – will not prevail.

Let’s complete the homily together by praying for Nagle House and for all projects born of otherworldly hope – all projects that see houses opened to God’s future … Amen.

Draws on a sermon by John Queripel.