As a child, growing up in a Methodist church that was very influenced by the “salvation only” type of Christian teachings, readings like this one from Mark scared me to death. In this “salvation only” mind frame, we are Christians primarily because of what that means for us after our deaths. God is present only as the big guy in the sky who’s there to save us from something terrible. As a friend puts it, being a Christian is hell insurance. This type of Christianity took root in many of our American churches and is still alive and well and has a very specific way of reading scripture – fear. When we read scripture mostly for clues on how to save our skin, there is a lot of fear.
An alternative to this way of reading the Bible is believing that God is present here and now working out God’s hopes and dreams for this world. When we read about a present and loving God in the Bible, we believe that how we live out the Gospel imperatives to love our neighbors, to welcome strangers, to forgive, to have mercy, to work for justice all matter. When we read scripture as a living document that speaks to us about a living God who is present today, we find a lot of good news and we begin to lose our fear.
This apocalyptic scripture from Mark is a good example of one that can be read with a lot of fear for we all know we will be left wanting, but it can also be read as good news for us today. It mentions the times when we are probably most ourselves – evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn – as the times when should be prepared for God to come and be with us. These are the times when we are winding down, when we are tired, and when we are messy. We have taken off our outward defenses against the world and we are ourselves. This gentle reading promises us that God comes to us as we are. (As an aside, also notice these are the times noted in the crucifixion story, the ultimate story of God’s choosing to be with us.)
David Lose, one of my favorite preachers, writes, “Mark offers a distinctly apocalyptic view of not only Jesus but the Christian life. Not, mind you, apocalyptic in the “end of the world” sense, but rather in the sense of pulling back the curtain of false hopes and realities in order to reveal God’s commitment to enter into and redeem our lives and world just as they are.”
At the end of 2020, we are more aware than usual that we are messy, fragile, and broken. So many of our fears have been realized this year because of the pandemic and because of the political divisions we face. We have become aware more than ever of the racist culture in our nation and of our systems that still discriminate against people of color. The curtain of false hopes and realities has come down this year. We have been exposed as completely ourselves right now, and we hope that “this is the very moment in which God chooses to meet, love, and redeem us. Here. Now. Right before our eyes.” (David Lose)