Endings and Birth Pangs

18 November 2018 – Proper 28/ Lectionary 33

This is the last Sunday of Ordinary (ordinal/ numbered) Time in this liturgical year. Next Sunday we honor the Resurrected One as ultimate ruler: Christ the King. It is for that reason fitting that this Sunday talks about ultimate things, the end times, signs and portents. It is as if the lectionary means to place in our hearts and minds the enormity of God’s power beyond all that we can imagine. This huge scope gives us an opportunity to begin pondering once again our place in God’s realm, in the universe of the sovereign who is “all in all.”

Then we are prepared to begin a new year on the First Sunday in Advent, when as new liturgical year and the season of Advent invites us to contemplate receiving God-with-us. Let these endings and beginnings work their power within us as individuals and as communities of faith. –– Melinda Quivik


Mark 13:1-8

The thirteenth chapter of Mark has come to be known as the “Little Apocalypse,” because in it Jesus reveals to four of his disciples what to expect as the present age passes away and God’s new age is ushered in. The conversation between Jesus and the disciples begins when one of the disciples comments on the greatness of the temple. . . Jesus responds, “Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down” (v 2).

This conversation takes place as Jesus and the disciples are coming out of the temple, immediately after witnessing a poor widow placing the entirety of her wealth into the treasury. The disciple’s comment about the size of the temple may also be a commentary on temple culture—very large and very permanent. Jesus’ response, therefore, can be understood not only as a prediction about the temple itself, but about the status quo. . . As unchangeable as they may seem, things will not always be as they are.

The lectionary reading for this Sunday does not include the entire apocalypse proclaimed by Jesus; we only read about what the beginning of the end of the age will look like, along with a warning to refrain from confusing the signs of the end with the end itself. God’s new beginnings will be declared many, many times—and they will ultimately be recognized as false starts. Jesus tells the disciples to remember that whenever new beginnings are declared, these are merely “birthpangs” of God’s new beginning. Do not be alarmed, and do not be led astray. God’s new beginning is still to come. –– Steven H. Fazenbaker

Daniel 12:1-3

At the beginning of chapter 12 we find the only plain and forthright discussion of a literal resurrection of the dead. (Other references, most famously Ezekiel 37, may be interpreted as metaphor.) Unlike the New Testament understanding of resurrection, the resurrection described in Daniel does not include all people. . . Some will awake to everlasting life, and some will awake to shame and everlasting contempt. Additionally, “[t]hose who are wise” will be resurrected and will “lead many to righteousness” (v 3). A reason is given as to why the wise will be resurrected, but no explicit reason is given for why some who sleep will awake, while others will not. Given the context of Daniel, one may speculate that those who have been steadfast in their obedience to God will awake to everlasting life, while those who have brought such calamity upon God’s people will awake to everlasting contempt. –– Steven H. Fazenbaker

Hebrews 10:11-25

Because we are atoned by the sacrifice of Christ, we are at one with God, and we are called to live as if we are at one with each other. Specifically, we are called to provoke one another to love and good deeds; we are called to develop the habit of meeting together; and we are called to encourage one another as we live in the hope that all of Christ’s “enemies would be made a footstool for his feet” (v 13). –– Steven H. Fazenbaker

Melinda A. Quivik, an ELCA pastor and former professor of liturgy and homiletics, is the Editor-in-Chief of Liturgy. Her most recent book is Remembering God’s Promises: A Funeral Planning Handbook (Augsburg Fortress, 2018).

Steven H. Fazenbaker, a United Methodist minister and previously the director of the Wesley Foundation at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is now enrolled in a DMin program with a concentration in science and theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Homily Service 42, no. 4 (2009): 124-134

David Turnbloom