As we come to the end of another liturgical year, you'd think we might get happier and more joyful readings. Instead, in response to a question put to him by Peter, James, John and Andrew, we are presented with a picture of the "final days" - before the coming of the Son of Man. In the Gospel for this weekend, Christ asks us to think about some pretty difficult things - the day when the sun will be darkened, the moon will not shed its light, stars will fall from the skies, and the Son of Man will come in power and glory. The readings seem to be all about terrible loss, nightmare, and calamity.
The fullness of God's kingdom will come. The Gospel tells us, " ... of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Although it is not pleasant for many of us to reflect on these images, it's important for us to do so.As rational beings, we have the wonderful ability to think ahead, to foresee several possible outcomes, and to prepare adequately for a number of probable situations.
The unknown is our enemy. We lose control when we don't know "the day or the hour." It's hard to plan for a surprise, the unexpected. We all sense this kind of impotence when it comes to our future health or other critical circumstances. None of us walks around expecting death or violence or accidents to happen at any moment.
Most folks contemplate the end times with distress and fear. The real possibility of a life spent in "everlasting horror and disgrace" looms as a real possibility when they reflect on their life lived outside the will of God. Though the terror is real, it is not of itself sufficient to either bring about change or remove the fearful debt they owe. Only God's powerful love can do that. Jesus is the priest entering into God's presence offering his own life, death, and resurrection as the Sacrifice which can remove every stain of sin, making perfect and freeing from guilt and judgment those who believe.
Jesus lived His life fully, celebrating each moment, each encounter, and each relationship with joy. He embraced human experience, drank deeply of human emotions, was nourished and comforted by human love. But He was always looking into the eyes of His Father. He was always conscious of the circle of His human existence - leading Him from God back to God. He never lost His sense of direction and purpose and in that sense He was prepared for whatever came. His love of the Father was integrated into all that He said and did and became. There was no event, no person, no circumstance that ever separated Him from His Father.
Rather than concentrating on the final days - or the final coming in glory of the Son of Man - I think that Christ is more interested in the way we are conducting our lives now… in the present. I prefer thinking that our Lord is more interested that the Second Coming should be happening right now and right here.
We need look at our lives, and how open we are to His presence within them. We need to be attentive to the signs of His presence around us. We need to focus on how His words affect our day-to-day lives and our relationships with one another. The signs are there… they are around us every day.
And so our response must be that of watchfulness, not in the sense of neglecting the duties to which our Christian life calls us, but to the extent that each day must be one of attentiveness, expectation and hope.
We, like Jesus, must learn to live fully to love fully, to journey trustingly always conscious of the Father's presence, always aware that He could be waiting for us around each corner, at every intersection. In that spirit, we will see the face of God in each person we meet, feel His power and goodness in the world around us, and draw from His strength to overcome every evil.
Jesus gives us a glimpse of his glorious and triumphant return. It does not matter that at times in history it appears that the forces of evil will overwhelm his people; the drama is not yet over until he returns and makes all things whole. This week's Gospel passage gives us just a hint of the final outcome. His will be a glorious victory and a triumphant return.
So when the moment comes when we do meet Him face to face and see Him reach out to lead us across the threshold of death into His house of light and life, it will not be a shock or a surprise. He will not appear as a stranger or an enemy, but as a friend and companion. Then we will be possessed by His beauty, His life, and His love, - and as our first reading says, we "shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and …shall be like the stars forever."