BIRTH PANGS – Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 28, Year B; Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (RC)

November 14, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary
1 Samuel 1:4-20 or Daniel 12:1-3
1 Samuel 2:10 or Psalm 16
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16:4, 8, 9-10, 11 (1)
Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Mark 13:24-32

Today’s readings from Daniel and Mark are unlikely to appear on most people’s list of favorite Bible passages. Few of us relish the thought of endings, let alone the kind of cataclysmic destruction described in these readings.

As in Matthew and Luke, we find in Mark a lengthy section of apocalyptic teaching immediately before the passion narrative. Jesus makes reference to the fulfillment of God’s reign in a number of other places, and in various passages he urges his followers to remain vigilant for the day of God, but in Mark 13, he speaks of disasters ranging from war, famine, and earthquake (Mk 13:8) to the sun and moon being darkened and the stars falling (13:24).

As with other writings of this type, these images are intended to give strength to those experiencing alarm or fear in the midst of turmoil and suffering. Mark is writing for a community that was witnessing two major disasters: the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD and widespread persecution and killings of Christians.

As in other historical eras, these events gave rise to terror and to wild rumors that the end was near. Jesus uses apocalyptic imagery here not to fuel fringe religious movements nor to encourage extreme responses. Rather, he instructs us to view these events as “but the beginning of the birth pangs” (13:8). Only God determines the end, and so we are to remain attentive to the signs of the times and to live in watchfulness.

Jesus reassures us that good and justice will prevail in the end. In that time of fulfillment, God will make things right, as Christ returns in power, sending the angels to “gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (13:27). These words of Jesus offer encouragement not only in the face of disasters and extreme suffering, but also as we seek to live each day for the reign of God. The forces of cynicism, violence, racism, and injustice may seem to have sway, but Christian disciples can proclaim the Gospel and witness to the reign of God with the assurance that God’s way will ultimately prevail.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., drew on this teaching in his famous sermon at the Washington National Cathedral on March 31, 1968: “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Appropriately, this last Sunday sermon delivered by Dr. King was entitled, “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution.”

Whether the sky seems to be falling in the world around us or in our own personal lives, we hear today a message of hope. God’s day will come at last. Keep your eyes and ears open—and keep on moving.

A Hymn for Today: “Where Shall I Be?”

Charles Price Jones (1865-1949) wrote more than 1,000 hymns during his ministry as a pastor and leader of the Church of God (Holiness). This hymn responds to the message of today’s Gospel reading, inviting us to express our hope in God’s future and our vigilance in preparing for that great day. The text’s sense of confident movement into the future is heightened by the march-like tune that Jones composed for it.

When judgment day is drawing nigh,
Where shall I be?
When God the works of men shall try,
Where shall I be?
When east and west the fire shall roll,
Where shall I be?
How will it be with my poor soul;
Where shall I be?

Oh, where shall I be when the first trumpet sounds,
Oh, where shall I be when it sounds so loud?
When it sounds so loud as to wake up the dead?
Oh, where shall I be when it sounds?

When wicked men His wrath shall see,
Where shall I be?
And to the rocks and mountains flee,
Where shall I be?
When hills and mountains flee away,
Where shall I be?
When all the works of men decay,
Where shall I be? Refrain

When heav’n and earth as some great scroll,
Where shall I be?
Shall from God’s angry presence roll,
Where shall I be?
When all the saints redeemed shall stand,
Where shall I be?
Forever blest at God’s right hand,
Where shall I be? Refrain

All trouble done, all conflict past,
Where shall I be?
And old Apolyon bound at last,
Where shall I be?
When Christ shall reign from shore to shore,
Where shall I be?
And peace abide forevermore,
Where shall I be? Refrain

Text: Charles P. Jones, 1865-1949
Tune: JUDGMENT DAY, Charles P. Jones

Image Credit: Icon of the Second Coming, anon., Greece, c. 1700, Wikimedia Co

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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