Have you ever been afraid in the dark? I have been and I bet you have been at some stage or other as well.
I can still remember lying in bed when I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, looking at the curtains in my bedroom, certain that something moved, that I saw a shadow, that something dreadful was about to happen. I remember that after watching my first horror movie it was even worse. I did not dare turn the light off and kept waking up because I was even frightened of closing my eyes!
What helped was holding on to something familiar like my teddy bear, or softly sing, under my breath an assuring song.
What also helped was plucking up the courage to get up and look behind the curtain, face my fear and get it over with. I did not always dare though ..
It was even better when somebody else did it for me, mum, or dad and helped me face my fears.
Jesus disciples were probably also frightened of the dark. Not that theyd been to a horror movie, or that they had trouble going to sleep in a room full of shadows. There was a much more menacing darkness looming over them, the darkness of murder and death.
Jesus had come to Jerusalem a couple of days beforehand. Hed been welcomed by huge crowds, singing Hosanna and shouting Blessed is the Kingdom of the Lord, clearly implying they expected Jesus to be King. And after that the hatred of the religious authorities had flared up even higher than before. An attempt was being planned on Jesus life and they must all have felt the tension, even though they were perhaps stubbornly trying to ignore it. Jesus himself increasingly talks about the fate that awaits him: suffering, humiliation and death. His attacks on the religious authorities more cutting then before.
They must have been scared witless! What would happen? What would the future hold, for him, but also for them?
Look Teacher, what large stones, what large building!
Are they looking for something to hold on to? Some unshakable, unchangeable certainty? Or are they telling Jesus: Look at it, youll never win, they are too strong, the temple, symbol of the established Jewish tradition, symbol of the strength of the religious leaders Jesus has so valiantly attacked. Surely nothing will come of it. The powers that be simply too strong to even contemplate causing a crack in the gold clad massive walls of certainty?
It will all come down is Jesus answer. Not one stone will remain upon another.
A frightening thought.
A temple that was, at the time, world famous for its splendour and powerful appearance, razed to the ground.
There is little comfort in that answer. The world will be turned upside down it says. And later, when they talk some more about it, it gets worse: war and rumours of war, earthquakes, famine, confusion, is all that is in store.
Jesus gently but firmly gets them to face their fear. He draws, as it were, back the curtains and helps them to look. Instead of telling them that all will be well, and that they are all safe because he will be there to care for them, at first instance he confronts them with the stark and merciless reality of what is to come. And we, and the first readers of Mark know that it would: The temple destroyed, no stone left upon another, war, famine and chaos following each other in quick succession round the year 70. And not only that, but that it keeps coming: war, rumours of war, famine, earthquakes, confusion. And the fear that accompanies it. Right into the present day.
Who does not feel fear when reading about terror attacks in other countries? It only seems a matter of time until we will somehow be affected, doesnt it? Who does not find the stark warnings about ecological disasters that are about to happen in the very near future frightening? Who is not affected by stories of others about illness and misfortune and fears that maybe, just maybe, their own lives may be confronted with it at some stage?
Being scared is human, is a natural reaction to a life that is, at best, uncertain, and a future that is never secure.
Jesus does not belittle the darkness that he and others can see looming. He does not try to soften or conceal in any way that difficult times are ahead. And only then does he give comfort. Not the massive form of the temple, he offers as something to hold on to. Nor the certainty of a clear set of guidelines to follow: There will be no certainty he says, conflicting voices clamouring for pre-dominance in his name, theyll have to be aware and tread carefully.
But dont be alarmed. Just face it and see it for what they are: Birthpangs. Something better is to come, something is growing through all of it, something is fighting to come out into the world. Although it may seem to be to the contrary at times, God is still in control, the future secure, the darkness only temporary, a glimmer of light already visible at the end.
Life is not always easy. There is a lot that can frighten us, a lot that can cause deep and unsettling anxiety. Jesus does not brush anything aside but takes his disciples through this anxiety, makes them face it and then tells them that this is not the end all. There is more.
What is important is to be aware and firmly keep our eyes on the light. Make sure we hold on to the right thing: the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, his life, his death and his resurrection. A hope so sure it will be able to take us through anything.