The Time of Trial

By Elizabeth Baumann

Reading from the Gospel of Matthew, 24:15-31

15 “So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand), 16then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; 17someone on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; 18someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat. 19Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! 20Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a sabbath. 21For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. 22And if those days had not been cut short, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’ — do not believe it. 24For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25Take note, I have told you beforehand. 26So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

29 “Immediately after the suffering of those days
the sun will be darkened,
   and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from heaven,
   and the powers of heaven will be shaken.
30Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. 31And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”


Lately, I’ve been noticing how even people who normally express no religious faith ask, “Why?” when bad things happen. And even people with little or no faith pose explanations like, “You’re being tested.” We seem to be hard-wired to look for and depend on meaning. If we can cobble together a meaning for things, we find them bearable.

But sometimes there really is no explanation. Atrocities happen, and no compensatory good emerges to make sense of them for us.

Perhaps that’s why voices in the Bible — especially Jesus’ voice — give us lessons like today’s about the coming time of trial and the end of the world. Because unspeakable things happen, and if he hadn’t warned us they would, we might be justified in concluding that God isn’t around and doesn’t care. Instead, being forewarned, we continually pray, “save us from the time of trial” (the contemporary language version of the Lord’s Prayer is a gift we use far too little) and we’re invited to trust that he will. Maybe a meaning emerges that helps, or maybe not. Either way, we know that God is with us. He has promised to come again and take all the things that don’t make sense and set them right.

Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.

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