Our lessons from scripture this week offer us instruction in persistence, confidence, and calm discipleship—especially when the evidence of our experience is discouraging and we might well give in and give up. In our reading from I Samuel, we will read the story of Hannah. She is the much-loved wife of the righteous man Elkanah, even though “the Lord had closed her womb.” Hannah’s grief at her childlessness is intensified by the provocation she receives about her barrenness from another wife. Hannah wept and would not eat, and her husband could not console her. Finally, Hannah went to the Temple and presented herself to the Lord; she “wept bitterly” and prayed. And she made a vow: “Lord, if you will look on my misery and remember me, not forget me, and give me a male child, I will set him before you.” The priest Eli saw her praying, and thinking that she was drunk and raving, he confronted her. Hannah responded that she was “pouring her soul before the Lord,” speaking out of her “great anxiety and vexation.” Eli’s priestly reply: “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant you petition.” Hannah went home, no longer sad, and the Lord “remembered her,” and she conceived and gave birth to Samuel. Our canticle this Sunday will be her song of praise and thanksgiving for the Lord’s faithful answer to her persistent prayer: “God will guide the path of the faithful, but the wicked will languish in darkness. For it is not by human might that any mortal will prevail.”
The reading from the letter to the Hebrews expresses this kind of confidence in light of the coming of Christ. Because our high priest, Jesus Christ, who is now enthroned in the heavens with God after having made his one perfect sacrifice for our salvation, we have confidence to enter the sanctuary. The writer encourages us, “let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” and “let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” because “he who has promised is faithful.” Likewise, we should encourage one another as the day of Christ’s returning draws closer.
Jesus foretells that day in our gospel lesson from Mark. In public in Jerusalem, Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple. In private, his awed and anxious disciples want to know when that will occur and what the signs will be. Jesus tells them not to be alarmed by the distressing events that occur before and between: “the end is still to come,” he says, and these things “must take place.” Evil times are not the end time.
We are reminded, along with the disciples and the first readers of the letter to the Hebrews, what it means to be disciplined in worship and prayer and in working for good and to be vigilant in our discipleship. Holy Scripture is our instruction in how to do those things, and our gathering together in the Body for prayer and communion is our source of strength.