SUNDAY’S READINGS | November 13, 2022
The close of the church year dovetails into the coming year. Already, the theme of Advent shows itself, the announcement that the end of all things is soon to arrive, and something altogether new and marvelous and beyond all knowing is about to break in upon human existence and the whole created order. “Very truly, I tell you,” Jesus says, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). “Those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:35). We will not bear fruit, we will never know salvation, we will not find joy until we fall to the ground, die, and make peace with bitter sorrow. The way of the cross is the way forward.
Whatever hardships we face in life, we have as our defense a forewarning from the Lord of heaven and earth and a promise of final victory. We are warned of persecutions: “they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name” (Luke 21:12). This is no less true today for Christians who bear their faith at great personal risk. Jesus warns of betrayal: “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relative and friends; and they will put some of you to death” (Luke 21:16). Such betrayals still occur. Jesus warns of war, natural disasters, famine, disease, and great portents in heaven (Luke 21:10-11). Jesus speaks of the temple, perhaps meaning every human creation: “[N]ot one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” (Luke 21:6). He is describing the dangers of the world in the time of his earthly existence and every succeeding age.
How do we go on from day to day? Strangely, Jesus advises that we do not prepare for the crisis. “Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance” (Luke 21:14). Indeed, real and ravaging crises always seem to come unexpectedly and sabotage preemptive planning. Instead, we are to wait upon the Lord. “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict” (Luke 21:15). Jesus summons us to the long road of endurance. “By your endurance you will gain your souls,” Jesus says (Luke 21:19).
While there is so much about suffering we do not understand, we may at least notice that sometimes good comes out of evil. Anguish may burn away what is unnecessary and even open a new world. “See, the day of the Lord is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble” (Mal. 4:1). Is there not arrogance and evil, pettiness and cruelty in our hearts, stubble for the flame? We endure and gain our souls by shedding what is unnecessary and through a purgation of the evil that threatens our lives. The cross of Christ is the purgative way, and it is with us every day of our lives.
Now we come to the promise. Judgment comes, and then something new and beautiful. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight” (Isa. 65:17-18). In this life, we have tribulation; we also have a foretaste of the fathomless joy that will, in God’s time, fill the cosmos from end to end.
Look It Up: The Collect
Think About It: Endure and hold fast to the blessed hope of everlasting life.