A Hope of Apocalyptic Proportions
St. Philip Lutheran Church
14 November 2021 + Lect 33b (Pent 25)
Rev. Josh Evans
Beginning the night of November 9, 1938, violent anti-Jewish protests broke out across Germany and its surrounding territories. Kristallnacht, as it would later come to be known, “the night of broken glass.” Over the next 48 hours, violent mobs, spurred on by anti-Semitic propaganda, attacked hundreds of synagogues, desecrating Jewish religious symbols and artifacts. By the end of the riots, nearly 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, homes, and schools were destroyed, and 91 Jewish lives were cut short.
Kristallnacht marked a decisive turning point from mere anti-Semitic rhetoric and legislation to outright violence and genocide, culminating in the events of the Holocaust.
When I was in seminary, our chapel would host an annual observance of Kristallnacht to remember the horrific events of that night and to repent of the sin of anti-Semitism, present in even Martin Luther’s own writings.
One year, we heard the testimony of Holocaust survivor Walter Falk. Falk was only 11 years old when Nazi soldiers raided his home. Shortly after the events of that night, he was one of the lucky ones who managed to escape on the Kindertransport, an operation arranged by the British government to secure safe passage out of Germany for 10,000 child refugees, with the assumption they would be reunited with their families after the war.
Falk recalled the difficulty he undertook in packing up his entire 11-year-old life in one suitcase, with room for only one toy among many treasured possessions. But the most poignant moment, he said, came when he had to say goodbye to his mother before boarding the train, as his entire life was about to be uprooted.
And of course, Falk’s story is only one of many that still bears witness to the horrors of that time.
This past week as a nation, we also observed Veterans Day, calling to mind the devastation of war and the lasting impact of trauma on those who have served in our military. During my chaplaincy internship at the Cleveland VA Medical Center, I remember hearing and being entrusted with holding those stories from my patients.
Stories of upheaval, loss, pain, destruction, senseless hatred and violence. We hardly have to look too far to be reminded of these stories in our world today: political conflicts and division, hunger and food insecurity, continued illness and death from COVID, the impact of climate change… It can all feel a bit hopeless at times.
On the one hand, Jesus can feel like a bit of a Debbie Downer this morning. Marveling at the temple and the grandeur of the Jerusalem landscape, the disciples are amazed: “Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” And Jesus’s response: “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Contextually speaking, though, Jesus is more news reporter than future predictor. By the time Mark’s gospel was written, the temple in Jerusalem had already been destroyed, along with the rest of the city, in the aftermath of the Jewish-Roman War. Not one stone was left upon another. All had been thrown down.
Where is the hope? As though Mark’s hearers needed the reminder that everything they held dear suddenly came crashing down - literally - around them. As though we need the reminder of the realities of our own world, come crashing down, these past two years.
Destruction, wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines … it all feels a little apocalyptic. Which is probably how this brief text gets its reputation as “the little apocalypse,” as biblical scholars call it.
That’s a loaded - and often misunderstood - word though. Apocalypse. Far from the wild and imaginative imagery popularized by Hollywood in that one word, “apocalypse” quite literally is an “uncovering” or an “unveiling.” On the one hand, what is revealed is unsettling, frightening even.
But there’s also something else going on.
These things must take place, Jesus says, but the end is still to come. Or put another way: These things must take place, but they are not the end.
One of the major themes of Jewish apocalyptic writings is God’s ultimate control of the world. In these kinds of writings, it was taken for granted that God would deliver God’s people and the whole creation in God’s own timing. It’s a matter of when, not if.
Yes, things do fall apart. Stories of upheaval, loss, pain, destruction, senseless hatred and violence are real. But they are not the end.
What is ultimately being uncovered is something much more profound: God cannot and will not be contained by walls or buildings … and God’s Spirit will not be crushed or destroyed in the rubble or the shards of broken glass left behind.
We see it in the resilient and unrelenting witness of those like Walter Falk who testify to the horrors they endured, calling us to denounce anti-Semitism and hatred in any form. We hear it in the stories of veterans whose scars of war are both visible and hidden, calling us to choose and to live peace. We experience it for ourselves every time we gather for worship - in-person or online - calling us to community even when a pandemic (or building plumbing problems) tries to separate us.
Apocalypse is about destructions and endings - “these things must [and do] take place” - but it is also much more about the Spirit of God all around us that cannot be destroyed or diminished.
Our stories of upheaval, loss, and pain do not get the final word. Tragedy and destruction and the unspeakable horrors of war do not get the final word.
These things are not the end.
The story is not over.
Resurrection, not death, will get and does get the final word. A great hope of apocalyptic proportions.
Thanks be to God.