“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.” Luke 21:9 (NRSV)
This past week, we saw the horrible devastation and loss of life in the Philippines. One U.S. army general flew over a residential area and reported seeing thousands of bodies on the ground and houses washed away or leveled to the ground. Those who are left have no place to sleep, they have lost their homes and many of their family members. People are starving, thirsty, and trying to figure out what to do next. Looting has begun, and relief efforts are slow in arriving. It must seem like the end of the world to them.
When we think back to last year, it must have seemed the same way to the folks in New York and New Jersey with Hurricane Sandy, or to those in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, or Japan following the tsunami, or the earthquake in Haiti, the attacks on the World Trade Center towers in 2011, or the Vietnamese people when a horrible war broke out in their country, or in Korea, or during World War II and the Holocaust or World War I or the American Revolution or the tribal wars in Africa or . . . or . . . or. We could go on and on with the list of times when everything seemed to be crumbling around the people of that era. Surely, they believed that it was the end of time.
The Jesus followers of the early church believed that Jesus would return any moment, but he didn’t. All the signs were there of false prophets, earthquakes, famines, plagues, persecution, and devastation. It must have seemed like the end of time and that Jesus would be coming back to establish the eternal kingdom on earth, but it still didn’t happen.
Jesus doesn’t promise that we won’t suffer; in fact, he assures us that choosing to follow him will actually bring us more suffering, alienation, and hardship. What he does promise is that he will be with us. Luke 21:19 hold this promise: “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (NRSV). The thing that always assures me is that Jesus knows what I’m going through in my every day life as well as what it is like for others to suffer. He gets it!
He knows what it is like to lose a father to death (even though we don’t read about that in the scriptures, his earthly father Joseph clearly is out of the picture by the time Jesus begins his ministry). Jesus knows what it is like to laugh, play, cry, grieve, be betrayed by friends, love others, be an outcast, be a leader, be abused, and any number of other human experiences because he WAS human. He was God in the flesh, and because Jesus experience the full gamut of human life, God also understands what we are going through. Jesus is with us all the way on this journey. “. . . I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” (v. 15 NRSV).
When the 9/11 attacks happened, people flocked to the churches. Some were terrified and seeking answers. Many have since wandered away, not satisfied or willing to make a complete commitment to Christ. And yet, perhaps some seeds were planted so that the next time their world seemed to be coming to and end such as the death of a loved one, loss of job, or illness, they might have a sense of the presence of Jesus with them.
Our family is dealing with my mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease. This past week, we moved her to a long term care facility. For my dad, it was a heart wrenching decision, and for my siblings and me, it was so hard to see them going through this. But they both have a strong faith that is helping them get through this – along with our support and care. Last summer, Mom and I had a conversation during one of her moments of clarity when she told me she talked to God all the time and wanted to be with God. She said that she would see her parents and was ready to go. I pray, for her sake, that she will have her prayer answered soon.
For us, as a family, it may seem like the end, but through our faith and drawing together as a family, we recognize the presence of Christ in our midst as we take this journey. The essence of who my mother is here on earth has gradually faded away, but her soul is strong. My dad is strong, and at 90 years old, he has great wisdom and perseverance. I see the presence of God personally in them and in my siblings who are all strong in faith, and I’m grateful for God’s love in our lives.
Do not be terrified, Jesus said. My mom isn’t terrified. For her, the return of Christ will be when she meets him face to face in the near future. For the rest of us, it’s a matter of faith and trust. We don’t know the future, but we do know that Jesus has already gone on ahead of us and has paved the way, and he is with us throughout our lives and through all of the world. Thanks be to God!