St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
Today we are coming to the end of Jesus public ministry that we have followed in St Mark's Gospel. These warnings about the end of time are as part of the Gospel that we cannot ignore – but it is not all the Gospel and should be allowed to dominate our understanding of the Christian life. How does it speak to us in 2021?
Firstly, all things will come to an end. Despite all the culture of permanent noise, smiling faces and ceaseless entertainment, we have to deal with the reality of death and tragedy. Any Christian message that tries to submerge the pain of being human in a vague message about love and being jealous of the angels – that sort of message is superficial and trite. Jesus presented an adult of way of looking at life. A vague message of fake smiles in the face of tragedy will keep us childish. That sort of saccharin substitute for meaning is surely part of the widespread existential crisis that affects so many people. November asks us not to be afraid of the autumn of life or of the cycle of life and death. It challenges us to find ways of the forgiving the past and its pain – and living with the truth about ourselves and others. That applies to remembering the anonymous millions slaughtered in wars and the friends and neighbours around the corner whose lives were torn apart by our brutal conflicts. Can we find ways of forgiving and remembering? Do we adults hand on a rich tool to our young people so that they can face and deal with the dark side of human life? If we only teach them to mine the past for weapons for people to condemn or for the next conflict, then we offer a sad picture of the future.
Secondly, the words of Jesus are not intended to be merely an angry threat that we can use to batter our perceived enemies, whose damnation we look forward to. Jesus speaks the truth but not to terrorise his listeners. This is the Jesus who died on the cross forgiving his persecutors. His words are laced with hope and healing, because he promises that he will come to gather his chosen ones. What looks like disaster and distress will be a time of salvation. That is why we say each time at Mass that 'we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ'. We give thanks for the good things of this life – but we dare to believe that here is not as good as it gets. There is another life that will make sense of the light and dark of our lives. There is one whose love and mercy outweigh the worst that human beings can do to each other. The promise of an after-life is not meant to downplay this life. Rather, it encourages us to search for truth and love in this life so that we are prepared to know it in its fulness beyond death. Jesus, our high priest, faced brutality and death because he believed in a love stronger than the viciousness of the cross. The grace of God will be victorious over the reality of human sin. That is a message of hope and encouragement to fight the reality of human sin that scars the lives of so many. And it challenges us to take responsibility for our actions – and believe that, if we acknowledge our need of forgiveness from God, it will be made available. Do we adults give our young people something to hope for or just a placebo to dull the pain? Do we give them the tools to create a better future – or just the belief that they are helpless in the face of evil and pain? Do we tell them that nothing is important except not getting caught? That would provide no basis for a solid future.
Thirdly, in every time of crisis, some people have thought that things were so bad that the end must be near. I can imagine that this was the case at some stage in every century. The horrors of plagues and wars must have seemed insuperable to some who actually hoped that the end was close at hand. In the environmental field, we hear prophecies of destruction and disaster on a biblical scale. At the present time, I get bombarded by prophecies that the end is near and that the world is so bad that God will come to destroy it. But I don't know whether the world will end today or in a million years. Only God the Father knows that, says Jesus. After the Ascension, the apostles stood looking up into the sky. The angel told them to stop wasting time and to go out as witnesses to who Jesus was and what he had done. That is why Christ gathers us here each Sunday. We come together around the altar in order to celebrate what Jesus our high priest achieved on Calvary. He has defeated the power of sin - and asked us to tell the world about that liberating news. He was led off like a lamb to the slaughter – but was actually the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In a world of disaster movies and horror stories, of sad news and arguing civic leaders, Jesus tells us to keep our nerve, that grace is in charge. We gather here each Sunday to hear that good news and not to allow the tsunami of bad news to crush our spirits. No matter what has happened in each of our lives, grace and healing is on offer. All we have to do is to let that divine nourishment seep through the hard shell that we use to protect ourselves from hoping too much. Are we helping our young people to be nourished by hope and mercy – and not to be depending on spiritual junk food that is good for neither mind nor body? Or are we afraid to share that hope with them?
Next week, we will celebrate the feast of Christ the King. It proclaims what will happen after Christ comes to gather his chosen ones from the four corners of the world. Christ in glory wants to share his glory with you and me. That is the context for our remembering of dead in November. Somewhere, there is God who can forgive sin and reward goodness. Evil does not have the upper hand. Thus, our message is always one of hope and never merely of threat or condemnation. Even on the cross in the last minutes of his life, the good thief was able to encounter Jesus. Eternal life is not earned but given freely to all those who seek it. Can we let our departed go in peace – and find peace at their leaving us. And can we be joined to them in prayer so that they can journey with us, not afraid of what lies ahead?
+ Donal McKeown