St Andrew, Glencairn

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Remembering in 2016


Read Luke 21: 5-19 first

This year we have had some other things to remember and think about besides our usual Remembrance of the two world wars and the various other wars that have happened since and those that are still in progress.

 I am referring to the centenaries of the so called Easter Rising at Easter 1916 and the Battle of the Somme in the summer of that year.

 The Irish Rebellion, as some prefer to call it, sparked off a chain of violence which has persisted for 100 years. Even after the Good Friday agreement, paramilitaries continue with acts of violence and punishment shootings and so on.

 The Battle of the Somme was a particularly bloody battle of the First World War, and many soldiers from Ulster, and some from the south, were killed in that battle.

 When I was a boy in the 16th Belfast BB, attached to All Saints’ Church in south Belfast, I was in the team of buglers that played the Last Post and Reveille on Remembrance Sunday. (I had gained my Bugler’s Badge.) We stood by the war memorial near the west door, and I often wondered why there were three times as many names in the list of those killed in the First World War than in the second. As I learnt more history I came to understand just what a slaughterhouse Flanders Fields were. And of course we have all seem some film footage of that war. By the way, one of my uncles was killed in the 2nd World War just before the end. He was in the RAF.

 The First World War was supposed to be the war to end all wars, but it wasn’t. The Second World War, spread over 6 years with the Battle of Britain, the evacuation from Dunkirk, the allied invasion, the Holocaust and atomic bombs, was a lot worse. Furthermore there have been wars somewhere on planet Earth every day since then. And today we get regular coverage on TV of the various wars in the Middle East, especially in Syria.

 To add to this sum of human misery we can add the considerable loss of life cause by what we call Natural Disasters – the earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, global warming, hurricanes and typhoons. And we mustn’t forget the persecution and killing of religious minorities in many countries in Asia and Africa in particular. Christians suffer greatly in these atrocities. Besides this catalogue of gloom and doom, our worries - Brexit, hard borders, gay cakes, Donald Trump and the astonishing loss of form of Manchester United - are but small things which we can cope with more easily.

 In our Gospel reading today, Jesus speaks about “the future” to his disciples. They had been admiring the temple in Jerusalem, but Jesus told them “The time is coming when this temple in all its glory will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another.” This would be the second time in their history that their Temple was completely demolished. Solomon’s Temple was demolished in 579 BC by the Babylonians. And the second temple, started by Zerubbabel after the return from exile and finished by Herod the Great about 50 BC, was demolished in 70 AD by the Romans. They did at least leave some of the foundation stones and these now form the “Wailing Wall” where devout Jews would go to say their prayers.

 The disciples then asked, “When will all this happen? What sign will show us that these things are about to take place?”

 We are living in what theologians call “the end times” – that time between the ascension of Jesus and his second coming. And Jesus says, “When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, don’t panic. These things must take place first but the end won’t follow immediately – nation will go to war against nation; there will be earthquakes; there will be famine and plagues; there will be terrifying things and great miraculous signs in the heavens. And you will be persecuted and everyone will hate you because you are my followers.”

 A long time previously the prophet Joel reported that God said, “I will cause wonders in the heavens and on the earth – blood and fire and columns of smoke; the sun will become dark and the moon will turn blood red before that great and terrible day  of the Lord arrives.” (Joel 2: 28-31)

 We get the same imagery in Revelation (6: 2-14), “As the lamb broke the sixth seal, there was a great earthquake; the sun became dark and the moon turned blood red; the stars fell to the earth like leaves; the sky was rolled up like a scroll and all the mountains and islands were moved from their places.”

 Now we saw earlier that there has always been a war somewhere; there have been earthquakes and other natural disasters for years; there have been very frequent total eclipses of the sun (going dark) and of the moon (turning red). And these things will go on happening as long as the earth remains. Sometime in the very distant future the sun will begin to die because it has burned up its supply of helium, it will swallow up all the planets before shrinking back to die. Long before that all life will be extinguished. We might do this ourselves will nuclear warfare, or the super-bug bacteria will kill us all off unless we learn how to kill them first. Global warming will eventually kill off all the plants and there will be no food left to support other forms of life.

 This is of course a very gloomy picture. During the wars people thought that their time had come – a bullet or a bomb might get them one day; it seems that it might never end.

 But throughout the Bible, the prophets hold out visions of hope for the people. After the suffering, usually attributed to the sins of the prophet’s own people, will come judgement of all and restoration of those who have repented. Joel says “But the Lord will be a refuge for this people, a strong fortress for his people Israel.”

 St John in Revelation says that those who follow Christ will be saved and will enter the “new heaven and the new earth” which he describes in chapter 21.

 And Jesus himself says to his disciples, and to us who follow him, that “not a hair of your head will perish; by standing firm you will gain life.”

 This is the message I want to leave with you this Remembrance Tide.

 Ken (24 November 2016)

Note that this Message is inspired in part by Tom Wright's commentary "Luke for Everyone".

  NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at