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May 2011
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vicar An end in sight?
By the Revd David Burgess

When is it all going to end?
My time away from work has encompassed, amongst other events, the earthquake in Christchurch, the devastating combination of earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the popular uprisings in Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, the conflict in Libya and the renewed threat of violence in Northern Ireland.

We had a church history tutor at college whose pet phrase – guaranteed to surface every lecture – was “There’s nothing new under the sun”. He was right: very little is new under the sun. The Roman historian Tacitus tells us some of the history of the time between AD 30-70. He wrote:

“The history on which I am entering is that of a period rich in disasters, terrible with battles, torn by civil struggles, horrible even in peace. Four emperors fell by the sword; there were three civil wars, more foreign wars, and often both at the same time.”

Other contemporary historians such as Josephus describe the disturbed state of Judea during this time. Massacres of the Jews were perpetuated at Caesarea, at Alexandria, in Babylonia and in Syria. In addition to the trouble in Palestine, the Pax Romana was momentarily destabilized in AD 68-69.

Natural calamities were also happening. Famine ravaged Judea during the rule of Claudius (reported in the book of Acts). More than 30,000 people died of pestilence in ancient Babylon, parts of Judea and in Rome before AD 70.

And you don’t need more than a smattering of ancient history to know the fate that lay in store for thousands of Christians during that period. For Jews as well, those years ended with the Roman invasion of Jerusalem and the desecration of the Temple.

So, when is it all going to end? Jesus tells us that there will be an end to all things, but doesn’t give details. We celebrate Ascension Day at the very beginning of next month; and amongst Jesus’s final words to his disciples before his ascension is a refusal to give them what they are looking for – a neat timetable or checklist by which we can calculate the time of the end of the age.

Instead, he calls them and us to a way of life. We’re to be involved in the world, to be engaged in the business of being ambassadors for Jesus in the here and now. There will be Christians called to be in the midst of earthquakes and floods and uprisings and conflicts because those things happen in the world in this present time and God’s work needs to be done there.

From a perspective of faith, any explanation or justification of these events is hard; it may be beyond us. In that case, bringing them and those who suffer to God in our thinking and praying and helping when and where we can aren’t derelictions of responsibility. Rather, they’re both all we can do and exactly what we must do.

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