Driving lessons and the end of the world
Today’s readings speak to us of the end of the world and of the signs that it is near. As we watch the news after hearing these readings proclaimed, we might begin to think that these are the days Jesus was referring to when he talked about the tribulation.
The east coast is recovering from Hurricane Sandy, the Middle East is struggling to keep peace, other parts of the world are dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes.
I have to admit, I haven’t had much personal experience with the kinds of disasters some people are facing right now. Part of the reason for that comes from living here in Spokane.
In a 2011 ranking by the New York Times, Spokane ranked as the 6th safest city in America from natural disasters. How blessed we are.
About the closest I’ve been to witnessing the end of the world is teaching my teenage boys how to drive.
If you’ve ever had to teach someone to drive, you know what I’m talking about.
You punch holes in the floor of the passenger seat trying to press a brake pedal that isn’t there, you see your life flash before your eyes, and you wonder if these are your last moments on earth.
And teaching my own boys how to drive has given me a greater appreciation for my own mom and dad.
You see, one of the problems I had in learning to drive was keeping the car from drifting around in the lane. I just couldn’t seem to keep the car between the lines–especially on the freeway.
Then my dad taught me something about driving that changed everything, and that helped me to stay in my lane without drifting.
Jesus teaches his disciples the same lesson in today’s gospel
The disciples are worried and fearful about something much more important than learning how to drive. They’re worried about the end of the world, what the prophet Daniel calls “an everlasting horror of disgrace,” and what Jesus describes as a darkening sun and falling stars.
Jesus is responding to some questions by Peter, James, John, and Andrew. They want to know when it will all happen, and what sign there will be that things are about to come to an end.
Mark is writing to a community that has witnessed some pretty horrific events and is about to witness more: the violent expulsion of Christians from Rome, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the persecution and martyrdom of friends and relatives.
And because the horrific events have not stopped, Mark is writing to us, too. Two World Wars, a terrorist attack on New York, an earthquake that devastated an already poverty-stricken Haiti, a tsunami that led to a nuclear melt down, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
Our world, our country, and our community have been devastated by some pretty severe events.
And we also have our own personal tribulations, our own personal darkening suns and falling stars. Our friends and relatives are being taken away from us by diseases like cancer; we see loved ones battling addiction and depression.
How do we maintain our faith and hope in the face of such catastrophes? How do we keep our bearings when things seem so frightening?
Like people learning to drive for first time, these catastrophes, both communal and personal, can cause us to drift all over the road, frightened and almost paralyzed.
But here’s where my dad’s advice comes in handy. My dad taught me the trick to staying straight in the lane. My problem, I discovered, was that I was looking at the road right in front of the car. My head was down, my eyes were on the patch of pavement just in front of me.
The solution was to look far ahead, almost to the horizon. Once I began to look up the road, I began to stay in the lane without drifting.
The same thing is true as we travel the road of life. These disasters, these tribulations, can turn us inward. We drop our heads down, our postures curl inward.
But the scriptures remind us to keep our ultimate end in mind, to look forward, as we say in the creed, to the resurrection of the dead.
When we look forward, when we sit up straight in the driver’s seat and look up the road, what do we see?
We see Michael, “the great prince, guardian of the people.”
We see the wise “shining brightly, like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”
Most importantly, we see “the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory…gathering his elect from the four winds.”
That is our destiny, that is what we see when we look ahead up the road before us.
Yes, we have to deal with an aging body that isn’t able to rake leaves the way it used to. Yes, it is tragic when a colleague has to bear the burden of chemotherapy. It’s an almost insurmountable problem to try and rebuild after a hurricane like Katrina or Sandy.
But someday it will all pass away. All the pain, all the hurt, all the tribulations. They will all disappear, and Jesus will come back again at the end of all things and bring us to where we will never have to worry or be frightened again.
By looking at the road ahead instead of at our feet, that’s how we keep from drifting off the road. It’s what my dad taught me, it’s what I tried to teach my boys. It’s what our Catholic faith teaches us.
It’s what we do when we we gather here for Mass.
In the midst of a universe that seems to get darker each day, we gather here to tell each other, “Look forward, Jesus will come again.”
Advent is just around the corner, and after that, the glory of Christmas, and after that struggles of Lent, but oh, after that, what joy we will celebrate as our Lord and Savior rises from the dead and takes us with him.
Jesus promised this to his disciples who handed it on to us, and we hand it on from generation to generation.
In the midst of the Eucharistic prayer today, Father will proclaim “The Mystery of Faith,” and we will respond “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.”
Though the world be dark around us, though the cold be bitter right through us, yet there is hope in the one who saves us. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but his words will not pass away.”
We don’t know when, or where, or exactly how, but we just keep driving, looking up at the road ahead, confident in the one who loves us.