Readings: Daniel 2:31-45; Daniel 3:57-61; Luke 21:5-11
It does not seem fair. It seems very unfair in fact: this extraordinary climax to a drama in which none of us chose to get involved in the first place. It is all God's idea - to invent the thing and keep it going. Why should he get so furious if his creatures make mistakes or opt out or lose interest?
We find ourselves within this story, like characters in a play, at the mercy of the creator, the writer of the story. To opt out, to say I do not want to have anything more to do with this God or with the Christian story, is simply to move to a different part of the stage, to take on a different role in the same play.
We seem to be trapped. And the stakes at the end are so high: at least if the gospel readings of these next three days are true. An extraordinary fate awaits us, who never really chose to be involved in this drama in the first place, who never agreed to play for such high stakes. And the preacher is supposed to do what seems like some kind of mental gymnastics to show how all this talk of judgement and punishment, fire and disaster, fearful sights and great signs from heaven, is just another angle on our good God, who is only love, only truth, only goodness.
On the other hand it is all true and deadly serious. There are wars and revolutions. Hundreds of people have died through violence in the past weeks. There are plagues and famines. There are fearful sights. There is unimaginable cruelty and exploitation of women, of children, of men too. There is betrayal and violence and persecution.
We are here whether we like it or not. And we need salvation here: light in which to understand, and help to make changes that are beyond our capacity, if we are to grow towards the fulness of our being.
It is a strange story, all the stranger for being true. It is not armchair stuff. We have to be ready to do battle. We have to be ready to fight for our souls. We have to be ready to defend love and justice. We have to be ready for tears and sweat. We have to be ready to lay down our lives.
We do not know what God is. As life moves on the answer to the question 'what is God?' becomes more elusive. As the world's history moves on the answer to this question too seems ever more elusive. But we believe that Jesus Christ is God's best word about himself. He is a word of truth and love, of blessing and healing. He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation (and so he is fundamental to our being in the story at all) and he is the first to be born from the dead (and so he is the principle of our salvation into eternal life). He has made peace, but it is by his death on the cross that he has done it.
Although he dwelt among us as truth and love, as blessing and healing, although he worked deeds that brought life, forgiveness and freedom, still, this word spoken by the Father from all eternity, dwelling in time with us, provoked opposition and fear, violence and hatred. Wherever that same word is still proclaimed authentically and wherever his message is truly lived, it still provokes these things.
It is all very strange. Jesus teaches, and shows, that love is the first and the last word about God. And yet Jesus provokes the world's hatred and violence. It is not always easy to see that love is the last as it is the first word. Sometimes it is very difficult to see this, whether in some pages of the Bible (which in this simply reflect the reality of the human world) or in the events of our own lives.