Fly Me to the Moon

Mk. 13:24-37
Advent 1

“Fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars.” With apologies to Frank Sinatra, it seems that we have always wanted to stand back and get a perspective on things. Today’s passage from The Gospel of St. Mark is one of those passages which seeks to give us a perspective. It is called “The Little Apocalypse.” Apocalyptic literature is found through out the Old and New Testaments. It speaks of the end of times when all things cease and we stand before God. “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.” Pretty grim stuff. But this kind of thought is not unknown in our own times. Fifteen-year-old boys love to go to movies in which there are cataclysmic events. As a fifteen-year-old, I saw one movie in which there was a huge earthquake in California, and another movie in which water was covering the earth. More recently the movie “Independence Day” had a giant meteorite, or maybe it was thermonuclear war. These images, found in both the Bible and contemporary media, have spawned a whole literature of Rapture Novels, in which people are jerked out of their convertibles and find “the peace that passeth understanding.” Whether in horror movies, science fiction, Rapture Novels or apocalyptic literature the reader experiences a heightened sense of expectation, an adrenaline rush and foresees a cosmic rush. The sun is darkened; the moon is gone and “stars fall on Alabama.” (Apologies to Billie Holiday.)

In the Old Testament the Hebrews lived always with a sense of expectation. They marked the seasons, the movements in the cosmos, and the catastrophic events of history. Just think for a moment of Noah and the flood, the parting of the sea during the Exodus, the locust in the dessert, and the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Yahweh, the God of our Old Testament is a God who acts in history, bringing about His divine purposes within the world and the cosmos. The Jews acknowledge that much of life is cyclical with its seasons, much of life is also inevitable (read the Wisdom Literature of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs) but above all there is a sense in which all things move beyond history. There is meaning in the cosmos and the heavens and the stars that affect man. Man, however infinitesimal does count and is important. “What is man that thou art mindful of him” says the Psalmist. (Ps. 8)
When I think of the heavens, the moon and the stars, I think of my father. Born in 1901, he was fascinated with flight and air travel. In his twenties, Dad worked for the Exchange Club in Toledo, Ohio, at its national office. The Exchange Club sponsored a program of encouraging towns to paint the name of their town on the roofs of barns and commercial buildings. In the early days of aviation pilots lacked navigational aids and didn’t know where they were. Pilots followed rail lines, rivers and roads. By putting the name of a town on its buildings, the town enabled the pilots to become oriented. (My friend Richard told me that the same thing was true with helicopters in Vietnam during the war. You would get lost in cloud cover and have to come down and find a river or town in order to know where you were. The pilots were constantly trying to get a fix on where they were.)

I remember how thrilled my father was when we put a man on the moon. He never expected in his lifetime to see that happen. He was disappointed that I didn’t share his awe. I built model planes during WWII but the jet age bored me and being a callow youth I didn’t care whether we were on the moon or not. Except for one thing. I was awed by the photographs and the shots of the earth from the moon. There was this planet orbiting in space, stuck in the cosmos and it was possible to step back, get the ultimate perspective, and see this fragile island we call home.

Later on there were shots from satellites (my son Chris worked for a time on global mapping by satellite). All of those shots showed the continents, landmasses, waters, green and arid areas. They imaged how fragile, how vulnerable, and how alone in space we seem to be. Looking at the photographs from the moon, it was apparent to me that this world of ours could perish, could burn out or dry out or wear out. How futile and petty the feuds between tribes and nations. The exploitation and raping of the forests and lands were apparent. The wanton destruction by man. You wanted to cry out “STOP! Take care of yourselves! Take care of the earth!”

Looking from the perspective of space a sense of beyond words, of dimensions beyond our imaginations, of a spirituality of the stillness, of a profundity of meaning, all of that was overwhelming. I felt a marveling that the source of creation — our God — had in the midst of the darkness and vastness of the cosmos created this thing we call the world and given to it life. The “darkness comprehended it not.” It seemed as though the writers of Genesis really got it right. “In the beginning day one. Day two.” From the perspective of the moon, from the vastness of the cosmos there was an eerie sense of an awareness of there being a moral reality. There is light and darkness, creation and destruction, creation and recreation. I had a sense of the struggle to survive and to do the right thing, to battle against evil if we are to survive. Life from the apocalyptic, cosmic point of view appears to be more than matter. There are moral boundaries and imperatives and battles in the midst of the movements of the planets and meteorites, the natural shifts and forces and cataclysms of the cosmos and the world. How puny are the worries and concerns of man! How small a perspective man has, cloistered in our own concerns, sort of like living in a cigar box and peeping out from time to time (whatever time is).

In a sense, my reaction is what the authors of apocalyptic writings were trying to articulate. They were trying to step back, to get perspective. They were trying to connect with the cosmic dimension and to acknowledge that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and of the prophets is somehow beyond our comprehension. And yet just as the creative and recreative force of creation made the cosmos and our world, this source is more than energy, more than beauty, more than power. It is a moral source and seeks to relate to us in the midst of the eternal struggle between light and darkness, knowledge and ignorance, love and hate.

The world is not abandoned from this force, and the prophets and John the Baptist caught a glimpse of the revelatory, recreative, redemptive action of God. They sensed a God who reaches out to us by coming to us. And in all of the unimaginable ways, in a god-forsaken (not literally) part of the world, where Jews and Arabs and Gentiles have fought with each other since time in memorial, in a child, in a manger, in a stable, in a small town.

The apocalyptic writings tell us to wake up. To look beyond war and sin and cataclysms. To shift our perspective and to see what God has done for us. To listen to the Gospel and to receive His Son because we can ruin it all, and things do come to an end, and this island home called earth is perishable, even as we ourselves, individually, are perishable.

The apocalyptic passage of Mark articulates the call of God in Jesus Christ to choose to see the ultimate glory and to praise and rejoice in His Son and the glory that awaits all of us both now and forever. This passage, this call, shakes us in this penitential time of Advent, rousing us, calling us to wake up, to look up, to open up, to see the rivers of history, the tracks of redemption, the signs of justice and righteousness, and the marks of One who is creative and recreative. You and I are called to allow our spirits and our souls to soar, perhaps not to the moon but in response to the love and power of our creator and redeemer God who brings light out of darkness, hope out of despair, and love out of hate. In our worship, in our relationships, in our reflections and in our faith you and I are called this season to wake up, to soar on the wings of the spirit and in holy imagination. Fly to the moon? Maybe not. But prepare to fly soon to Bethlehem. Amen. - Fr. Gage