Readings: Apocalypse 18:1-2, 21-23, 19:1-3, 9a; Psalm 100; Luke 21:20-28
We had a visit recently from some Iraqi Dominican sisters. These are women who have been through a great persecution. Just over two years ago they were uprooted overnight from their homes and forced to leave with nothing, to take refuge with thousands of other Christians in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. They had already been obliged to leave once before, to move from Mosul, their base for over a century, to the towns of the Nineveh plain and to continue life there.
Now the situation is changing again. The Islamic State has been pushed back from these towns of the plain into the city of Mosul which will soon, it seems, be conquered by Iraqi forces. The sisters have been resilient and dedicated. They have adapted themselves, and have helped their people to adapt, to a time of exile. They have continued to educate the children, to heal the sick, to gather the people for prayer and to take care of the elderly. They have seen many people deciding to leave for good. But they have stayed on and have helped their community to carry this great burden.
It is easy to talk in apocalyptic terms and to play with the images which the Book of Revelation contains. It is easy to toy with images of destruction, the collapse of cities, cataclysms of great violence, the end of ordinary life. It is a far different matter to live through an experience like that, as these sisters have done. There was heartbreak as the people were forced to abandon their homes and towns. But there is heartbreak again now as they visit the homes they left two years ago and see the destruction that has been done there, the hatred that has been expressed there, the desecration that has been visited on family homes and places of worship.
It is easy to say 'at the heart of the great drama of the Apocalypse stands the Lamb who opens the seals, the key to history, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world'. It is easy to say, of the apocalyptic texts we find in the gospels, that always at the heart of these dramas is the Son of Man, coming on the clouds with power and great might.
Of course we believe these things to be true. And a voice like mine, saying these things from a place of comfort and security, is one thing. A voice like that of the sisters, faithful through these years of loss, and keeping faith in the Lamb of God and the Son of Man - well that is a very different thing. These are voices speaking from the midst of destruction and persecution. These are voices that have inspired and encouraged all who have heard them during these past years. These are voices that have continued to say to us, in the darkest of moments, 'raise your heads, trust in the Lord, because your redemption is always near at hand'.