33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 6-9): Shaking The Universe
(Adults, the Gospel for this Sunday is full of strange images that can be unsettling for children. It might be good simply to read the reflection with the children, rather than reading the entire Gospel passage first.)
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus and his friends are just outside the city of Jerusalem, sitting on the Mount of Olives. This is the place where Jesus comes to pray before he dies on the cross and rises to new life, never to die again. It is a peaceful garden where beautiful fig trees grow. From here, they can see over the city walls to the great Temple standing so tall within Jerusalem. What do the disciples and Jesus talk about?
“In those days, after the time of suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
This sounds terrible. What could Jesus be talking about? Whose suffering could he mean? The sun, moon, and stars are not behaving as they are supposed to do. There would be so much darkness. What could cause this much change? It would have to be something so powerful, stronger than anything we know. Who can do this?
“Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
Who is this Son of Man? This is a name found in scripture, and it is a name Jesus uses for himself. It sounds as though Jesus is staring up at the clouds, daydreaming. Perhaps he is imagining the Kingdom of God in its fullness. Perhaps he is dreaming of the time when he gathers his own from all over heaven and earth—one flock together. "Then," he says. "Then..."
As they sit looking out at the Temple, the disciples must be confused by what Jesus is saying. It all sounds so strange, so Jesus tells them a parable. He points to a fig tree and says,
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
That's true. Every year, the trees lose their leaves before the winter. In the winter, they seem to be dead. Yet every spring, buds form, and the trees put forth new leaves. Where all was grey, there is green. Where all was death, there is life.
So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
When they see these things take place? Does Jesus mean that they will see the sun, moon, and stars behaving unusually? The disciples themselves will see the powers of the universe shaken? They must look at each other in astonishment. Surely, he is not serious. Surely, Jesus is daydreaming.
“Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
No, he is serious. His words are eternal. What he says is true. The disciples' generation—all the people alive at that time—will see these things. They will see the powers of the universe shaken. They will see something so powerful change the ways of the world.
They will? What could do this? What could it be?
As the disciples sit with Jesus on the Mount of Olives looking out at the Temple, they must wonder about all this. What will be the thing that shakes the ways of the world? They must want more details. But Jesus cannot give them anymore. He says,
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Even Jesus does not have the details. Not yet.
As Jesus and the disciples sit looking at the Temple, these things have not happened yet. But they do. Jesus' words are truth. So what happens? What is the one thing that happens, that is so great, that is so powerful, the ways of the universe are shaken?
The Temple is so tall, it blocks the view of the other side of the city. On the other side of the Temple, outside the city walls is the place where Jesus is crucified and dies. Nearby is the tomb where his body is placed, too. They cannot see these places from the Mount of Olives. Only the Temple.
Is it Jesus' death that shakes the powers of the universe? Certainly, darkness comes over the whole land while he is dying. Jesus, the Light of the World, dies. The disciples must feel like their whole world is shaken. This is the greatest darkness, greater than a darkened sun, greater than a moon that does not shine, greater than a night sky from which all the stars have fallen. It is terrible.
But Jesus says,
"From the fig tree learn its lesson...
Where all was death, there is life.
when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near
When the women come to the tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it is still dark, what do they find? The stone has been rolled away. The tomb is empty.
What is the event so powerful that rolls the stone away from the tomb?
What is the event so great that causes the tomb to be empty?
It is the Resurrection. Jesus is Risen from the dead.
Death does not behave as it is supposed to do. Death is not the end. It does not have the power.
What could cause this much change?
It would have to be something so powerful, stronger than anything we know. Who can do this?
We know, because we have learned the lesson of the fig tree.
He is near.