“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately” (Lk. 21:9).
Someone back in the great days of journalism once said that news reporting was the first draft of history. In other words, what you read in the headlines today will be grist for the historical mill, as later scholars try to make sense of events. Some time needs to pass before meaning emerges; the churn of events needs to be connected to what came before and what comes after. News reporting has fallen on hard times, of course, as propaganda and polemic are ascendant; not to mention “fake news”! Still, the notion that time has to pass before we gain perspective still holds, and may even be more true today.
Our Gospel this morning, with its talk of “wars and insurrections,” seems snatched from the headlines itself. Nine months of war in Ukraine have made us familiar with the images. Our reading from Luke seems apropos: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” (Lk. 21:10). Jesus in our reading today plots the course, not only for his time but for our time as well.
The Gospel writer Luke, however, is less of a headline-writer himself and more of a historian. For Luke, a little time needs to pass. As Jesus says in our reading today, of the destruction of the Temple, “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately” (Lk. 21:9). A little bit later, after our reading ends, Jesus says, “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Lk. 21:24). For St. Luke, Theophilus and the others to whom he wrote, and he himself, lived in that time, the time of the Gentiles. These are the times we still live in, until the return of the Lord in glory.
Luke’s sense of history is revealed when he wrote, not only a Gospel, but also the Book of Acts. Acts tells the story of the early Christians, who carried forward Jesus’ own ministry. The agenda moves them out from Jerusalem, to Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. It’s a great missionary enterprise that St. Luke outlines, in accord with Jesus’ own prophecy, that takes the good news of his death and resurrection to the four corners of the world. Meaning, and purpose, for us, emerge as the times of the Gentiles unfold.
In some sense we still live in the time of the early church. Nation is still rising against nation, as wars and insurrections take place around us. As Jesus says, the end will not follow immediately. Our Gospel suggests that this time is given to us for witness, for the proclamation of the Good News. “This will give you an opportunity to testify” (Lk. 21:13), Jesus says in our Gospel today: to witness like Peter and Paul, as we read their stories in Acts. Keep that in mind as we read them again next Eastertide. Forgiveness of sins is to be preached; salvation is to be proclaimed. Death is not the end. God’s love for the human race is made manifest in Jesus Christ.
Today we re-affirm our baptismal vows, as we celebrate the sacramental rite of confirmation. A member of the church will step forward into the spotlight to receive the laying on of hands with prayer, for grace to live the Christian life. We are inspired and encouraged by this example, as we remember our own baptism and the vows we too undertook. As a congregation, we are embarked upon the same missionary enterprise as our spiritual forebears. Today, we see its latest iteration, before our eyes at Trinity Church, Winchester.
The take-away for us today is that the time of the Gentiles is a time for action. “Witness” is not a spectator sport; for Christians, “witness” is not the role of the bystander. Witness brings us onto the field. “Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?” as we’re asked in our liturgy today. The Gospel must be shared, and we are the ones who are called to action.
The historian Raymond Aron once wrote that ideas by themselves are impotent. As he puts it, “A truth unadhered to is vain; when it becomes a conviction, either individual or collective, it is, like any human reality, a historical force” (Introduction to the Philosophy of History, p.274). We began with one historian, and we end with another. The story Luke tells us today is our story. We are the ones called to adhere to the truth and to act on the basis of faith. As Jesus says, these are the times of the gentiles. This is our time. Truly, we are an historical force, called to mission and witness.