Keep Calm and Carry On - Luke 21:25-36
Have you seen this meme? Keep Calm and Carry On. You find it and its knock offs on mugs, tote bags, and T shirts. It's gained popularity as a symbol of resilience - and has been the object of plenty of mocking.
But do you know where it came from? Keep Calm and Carry On was actually a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for World War II. They knew their cities would be threatened by mass air strikes, and the poster was intended to raise the morale of the British public. Set underneath the Tudor crown, a symbol of the state, it was meant to inspire a posture of self-discipline, fortitude, and calm in the face of calamity.
It is the same posture described in today's gospel lesson, against the backdrop of disastrous events endured by the early Christians. Luke's Gospel was written for a community of Jews and Gentiles some 40 years after Jesus' death. The early Christians were being persecuted for their faith, being imprisoned or killed by the authorities, being rejected by their families and friends. In addition, by this point, Luke's community had witnessed what Jesus predicts earlier in this passage: the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. The temple in Jerusalem itself was the center of their mental and spiritual universe. And the Romans had leveled it to the ground. In our reading today, this catastrophe on earth plays out on a cosmic scale. As the sun and stars refuse to shine, the sea comes back to reclaim the earth for primordial chaos. It seemed the end of the world to these early believers.
But the world didn't end. In fact, though Jesus promised that the generation of his disciples wouldn't "pass away" before "all things have taken place", here that generation was doing just that: passing away.
It raised the question of the trustworthiness of Jesus' word. Luke and his community needed to revise their earlier understanding of Jesus' words. Instead of focusing their attention on the signs of destruction, they looked to Jesus, who directed his followers to examine their own response to their struggle. "When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
I think it is significant that Jesus refocuses his disciples with a physical posture because posture says a lot about our inner attitude. What would you say about my attitude if I were hunched over like this? (cowering in fear, beaten down, shame) (hunched over a computer, bent by age or illness, or slumped in resignation.) What if I stand up straight? What does this communicate? (pride, strength, courage.)
Jesus telling his disciples to stand and life their heads is an encouragement to face their fears, to take heart, and look towards the future with hope. It is a posture of courage and welcoming whatever may come. Like "Keep Calm and Carry On" it inspires self discipline. Jesus warns his followers not to distract themselves with busyness or entertainment, but instead to pay attention as they carry on in faithful living. Foremost among these activities for Jesus and his followers was prayer. Prayer was a way to cultivate alertness and to be ready to make a response. Prayer was both their preparation and source of strength. And it put them into touch with this truth: redemption was near. Jesus speaks of the coming of the Son of Many, an Old Testament prophecy about a human one who would function as a bridge between humanity and God. Jesus spoke of God's kingdom drawing near. God's reign would set things right and make all things new. The disciples could face their fears and take heart because God was at work, even and especially through these hard times. And that was their source of hope.
Almost two millennia later we too have our calamities. Personal calamities of illness, job loss, break down of relationships, the pain of death. They are the end of life as we know it. In addition, Luke's gospel reads like modern day news: we see the effects of climate change in increased weather events. We see island nations and coastal communities threatened by rising waters. Our world is filled with wars, abuse, and senseless violence. People are fleeing for their lives. Our lives and our times are not so different from Jesus' day, or Luke's day, or any day. No matter the era, our world needs the hope of Jesus to stand up with the courage to face the problems that plague us.
And so it is important to understand that although Jesus said these words to his disciples, Luke's community reappropriated them later for the fortification of their own hope. We can do the same. God's kingdom is not simply about a heavenly home after we die, it is about living in God's presence and energy and joy now.
It is also about desiring that same presence and joy for others. We can do more than simply shrug in the face of global climate change. We don't need to ignore the suffering of human migration due to war and violence. We can pray earnestly, come Lord, Jesus, come among us, come among these who are suffering. And that prayer makes a difference. As we pray, we begin to see small ways we can be a part of Christ's coming. A part of God's kingdom work of bringing hope and justice into the world.
Some years ago, a few girlfriends and I read a book connecting faith and creation care. We discussed it chapter by chapter and prayed on it for about six months. At the conclusion of the book study, my friend Barb began composting. She did it not out of guilt or fear, but because she wanted to give something back to the earth. Of course removing compostable garbage from landfills is an important step. All our garbage is now shipped out of state, which consumes fossil fuels and eats up open space. But more significantly, it connected Barb to her spiritual center. It helped her stand up straight and face the future, carry on in hope and in God's ways.
This is just one example of how prayer leads to action. What is your prayer leading you to examine, to do? As we light the candles on the wreath each week in Advent, let us cultivate this prayer and this hope not only that we can keep calm and carry on, but that we can lift our heads and greet what comes with courage and conviction: God's kingdom is coming in the world, and we are a part of it.
Pastor Julie, 11/28/21