Mark 13 November 29, 2020
When Jeanne came home from the grocery store with a flat of white beans, a case of wine, and candles, she joked, “I’m prepared for the apocalypse!” In general, when we hear about people building bomb shelters, stockpiling canned food, guns, and ammunition, we think they are paranoid. Some days we think they may just be right. I Googled “how to survive the apocalypse” and found an article in the Economist titled “I Will Survive.” It introduced the new term “preppers,” people who actively prepare for a civilization cataclysm, whether COVID, a meteor, or North Korea sending a nuclear missile. Preppers have websites, monthly meetings and dedicate their time and treasure to being prepared. James Wesley Rawles, a premier prepper blogger, says his readers include fundamentalist Christians (please note 40 percent of Americans think Jesus will return at the end of the world by 2050) and environmentalists who are storing seeds to use after the food system collapses.
Do Jesus’s words at the beginning of Advent make him a prepper?
The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. (Mark 13:24-26)
Does his counsel “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come” mean we should keep beans, silver dollars, and AK-47 semi-automatic in the basement? Or does his reminder that no one knows that day mean that personal or great disaster is always a possibility, so go out and live a good life and don’t waste any time?
Apocalypse does not mean disaster. It is a specific literary genre, much like science fiction is different from romance novels. We know the difference. Jeanne stumbled upon an article in the NY Times Magazine:
In biblical Greek, “apokalypsis” means “uncovering” or “unveiling.” It refers to the moment when a long-buried truth is finally exposed. The secret could be anything — a plague of worms, corruption, a culture of flagrant harassment, exploitation, and abuse. What ends the world as we know it is the revelation itself, being shown the thing we had agreed not to see. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/20/magazine/exposure-is-about-truth-sure-but-mostly-about-power.html
The naming and telling of the story begins the shift that may be painful at first but is ultimately liberating.
Apocalypse is the disclosure of knowledge, with the intent to warn people to change their ways and bring about a transformative future. Think about the movies you have seen-The Matrix, The Mad Max series like “Beyond Thunderdome, Legend, The Terminator, the original Planet of the Apes. What is the point of these post-apocalypse sagas? (other than making a pile of money, because nothing sells stuff like the apocalypse.) The plotline is; there will be suffering (just as Jesus says in Mark), but a few people decide to work together and help each other survive and start a new kind of society build on integrity and the value of human life.
Planet of the Apes, from the Cold War era, beware of worshiping “the bomb” and blowing ourselves back into the stone age. Legend warns against an outbreak of a mind-altering infectious disease, so maybe we should not cut funding to the Center for Disease Control. All the zombie movies are about resisting evil, not giving in to the selfish crowd of cannibalizing greed. Let’s try helping our neighbor survive right now, so we don’t turn into zombies that just want to devour each other. The Terminator warns about the dangers of Artificial Intelligence technology weaponized and running amok. Apocalyptic stories are not telling us to be preppers hoarding stuff in the basement, but rather to turn towards each other and create a better future.
When Mark wrote, the disaster had already happened. The author began during the Jewish rebellion against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. At the beginning of Mark 13, the disciples taking a tour of the Temple and were very impressed, and Jesus starts in with his “Little Apocalypse” about how it will be destroyed, the stones will be gone, but his words will not pass away. For the first readers of Mark, 9/11 had already happened in Jerusalem. For the first-generation Christians, civilization had already done the worst thing imaginable but putting Jesus to death on the cross, the ultimate symbol of Roman power. But the Christian witness is that death did not hold Jesus, and his life and words of love would live on in us. Whether you believe that Jesus was physically resuscitated from the dead and lived again, or that Jesus lives whenever we practice love and justice, we welcome his spirit to resurrected in us; the result in our lives is the same. When the truth of human injustice is revealed in the apocalyptic possibilities, we chose to live together with integrity, love, and a mutual quest for the common good.
How in the world did this get morphed into waiting around for Jesus, with our beans in the basement, to return again in the 21st century and taking up his true believers? My answer is that story benefits people who don’t want the world to change, who benefit from the status quo, who want to suck all the oil out of the planet with no concern about the climate, who would rather have a tax cut than children’s health programs. If we are preparing to cower in our basements, people are not focused on making the world better because there is no hope.
Jesus’s message in Mark is that you have already survived an apocalypse, and though death will come to us all, the fear of death will not have power over us. We chose life. And guess what? We will survive-not because of stockpiles of water and ammunition, but because we stockpile acts of loving-kindness and justice, and we will stick together in a community no matter what. It’s not everyone for themselves in a bomb shelter, but all for one and one for all.
Jesus did not slurp his last supper cold from a tin can in the catacombs. His Last Supper came among friends, shared as a gift of bread and cup, as a sign of God’s love and generosity. We share in the joyful feast of God. We are all invited to Jesus’ table, and it has room enough for all of us. We don’t fear the apocalypse, Planet of the Apes, zombies, or even the red pill. Because it is just this truth we need that makes us free. Fear will not make us hoarders because we need not fear even death, for Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. We abide in love, and love abides in us. Every meal is an invitation to remember the Last Supper, and we will celebrate every last bite of goodness till we are ultimately breaking bread again with Jesus.