Last Days & End Times
PROPER 28 / C
Isaiah 65:17-25; Canticle 9; 2 Thess 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
17 November 2019
Alex Trebek could use this Sunday and our lessons assigned for today to make a category for the game show “Jeopardy”. So, contestants: see if you can name things about today which might fall under the category entitled: “Last”. And be sure to frame your answer in the form of a question.
At the top of the column: “Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost”.
If you said: “What is the next to last Sunday in the church year?”, you are correct.
Further down the column: “Luke 21:5-19, this morning’s Gospel.”
Answer: “What is Jesus’ last public discourse before his arrest and crucifixion?”
And finally – double jeopardy – extra points for answering this one correctly: “The times in which we live”.
Correct answer: “The last days.”
In the Gospel reading for this morning, the next to the last Sunday of the church year, we hear Jesus’ last public address to the crowds who followed him – the last time he would speak to the masses who gathered and yearned to hear him teach and preach. And what did he speak to them about? . . . the last days.
Indeed, all three of this morning’s readings deal with this theme of “the last days”, each author looking a bit differently at this topic regarding the “end times”.
From the Hebrew scriptures, the prophet Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of the last days – the creation of a new heaven and new earth; a place that will delight and bring us joy; a time of everlasting peace; a time when mortal enemies, such as the wolf and the lamb, will befriend one another. Isaiah paints an idyllic view of the end times.
But another prophet, Malachi, in an alternative reading that may be read today, projects a very different image.
See, the day is coming, he writes, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all the evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. . . . Talk about global warming! . . . He then goes on to say: But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.
In theological language, both Isaiah and Malachi give us an eschatological vision: a scholarly word meaning a vision of the last days, the end time. Whether we take the idyllic view of Isaiah or the harsher view of Malachi – today – tomorrow – someday - the final day will come – and we have been warned! And that day will be a day of judgment for all people – a wonderful day for some; but a terrible day for others, when the wicked will be separated and punished, with great torment, and amidst much pain and anguish.
Both of these prophets speak of judgment and – pay attention, Mr. Trebek! – judgment is one of the last things any of us want to hear about. For most of us, judgment is something to be avoided whenever and however possible.
Little wonder all of us squirm and get more than a tad bit anxious when Malachi’s description of the final days, “burning like an oven” are read. Regardless of our chronological age, suddenly we feel like a five-year-old – a guilty five-year-old! Guilty of what we may not be sure, but we are sure we must be guilty of something in God’s eyes! A guilty five-year-old quaking, terrified before an angry parent – angry about what, we may not know, but they must be angry. Why else would judgment day be at hand? Why else would we be standing here?
The last days . . . the end times . . . judgment day . . . a day to be feared . . . a day to be avoided at all costs . . . a day to be dreaded . . . a terrible day . . .
UNTIL WE REALIZE THAT THAT DAY IS ALREADY BEHIND US!
As Christians, we live with that day and that judgment already behind us, for when each of us emerged from the baptismal waters, we emerged as a new creation, a newly created, newly reborn and completely forgiven child of God. So, as children of God, the end days, the last times, are filled not with fear and dread, but with hope, and with promise. For us, the final judgment day is not a time of terror, but a day of completion, a day of wholeness, a day of peace and healing, a day to be welcomed and embraced . . . as Malachi writes: for you who revere my name, (on that last morning), the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.
How liberating to know that my life is not to be lived in fear of that final tally and review of my life’s sins! How freeing to live without one eye cast toward that moment of final judgment; to know that the words spoken are not to be dreaded, but words of welcome: “Your sins are already forgiven. Come on in!”
But . . . and this is important . . . but we are not in heaven just yet. This world is often still filled with darkness, still the battlefield on which principalities and powers continue to wage their war against God. Sin and suffering, pain and persecution have already been conquered by Christ – but even in their defeat they continue to engage in rearguard skirmishes - and we will sometimes, inevitably, be caught in the mop-up operations.
But as new creations and children of God, we may be in this world, but we are no longer of this world. It is appropriate that we meet these last days of the church year, these last days of the old order and the coming of final judgment not with fear and dread. We should look to the last day – the judgment day – not with fear and trepidation, but with joy and celebration and gladness:
For we stand in confidence that our sins, whatever they may be, are already forgiven;
We live in faith that we have already died to this world and risen triumphant through the waters of baptism;
And we wait in hope and promise and anticipation for the glorious Kingdom to come.