Malachi 4:1–2a, II Thessalonians 3:6–13, and Luke 21:5–19
These readings today speak of the coming end of the world. Most of the time, most of us really don’t think the world is coming to an end. We go about our daily lives. We do not focus often on how the world will end or when. Somewhere in our memory of scientific details we recall that the universe will cease its gradual expansion, begin to contract, and then implode. But that’s a few billion years away.
But then sometimes we start to have anxieties. There appear to be more imminent threats, things that we do worry about as humans on a fragile planet: a nuclear war, a wandering black hole after a star explodes, a gamma ray impulse frying everything, an out of control bio pathogen or germ, a sudden warming of the earth’s climate, the accidental release of anti-matter into the environment, a super volcano, the collapse of biodiversity (one half of the world’s species have vanished in the last 100 years), a gigantic solar flare, a collision with an asteroid, or a meteor. All of these are possibilities, but the chance of any of them happening soon is fairly small. We may be concerned about each one of these, but they usually do not rise to the surface of our complex of anxieties. So we go about our days, thinking we will all probably be here tomorrow, thinking of the future as somewhat dependable and making schedules and plans for the future, buying calendars for 2014.
But within this dependable future, we still may have anxieties about whether or not our future will happen or work well. We wonder about our politics and our economics. We sense the shifting nature of international affairs. We wonder about how the condition of the planet will shape our future. We sense that growing numbers of people will place ever increasing demands on our natural resources and environment. We sense sometimes a decline in the quality of life. We realize how fragile our power grid can be and how dependent we have become on electricity and technology for much of our lives.
And then we also face that creaturely anxiety around our own end time, our deaths. We sense that even though the world may go on, our own days are numbered. As we grow older, we grow wiser, and part of that wisdom is realizing our limitations and preparing for a good ending for a good life.
So although the end of the world, the focus of today’s readings, may be something we do not think about often, we also hold within us an ancient and primitive fear about the vulnerable nature of our future. Sometimes a sense of fragility surrounds the plans we make. Sometimes that old fear bubbles to the surface of human awareness, and we hear of rumors that the end is near, usually at times when public anxiety runs high.
You know, 2012 was an especially busy year for those predicting the end of the world. According to Ronald Weinland, Jesus Christ was supposed to return on May 27 and the world was to end Memorial Day weekend. Jose Luis de Jesus predicted that the world’s governments and economies would fail the coming month on June 30, and that he and his followers would undergo a transformation that would allow them to fly and walk through walls. Then the Mayan apocalypse was to take place on December 21 of that year just before Christmas. Warren Jeffs then predicted the world would end on December 23, but when that failed, moved the prediction to December 31, blaming the delay on the lack of faith of his disciples.
But despite all of those predictions, we celebrated the dawn of 2013. Although we may scoff and laugh — and humor is a good thing — we also know this attention to the end comes from the recesses of human anxiety regarding our future.
When things are difficult, we become anxious, and we may think about a coming end. In the difficult 5th century various Christian bishops were certain that Christ would return in 500AD. In the 14th century, faced with the black plague in Europe, many thought the end was near. Two hundred years later, Martin Luther, faced with Turkish invasion of Europe, thought that the end was near.
In Malachi, the first reading, the burning fires of the end speak of a time of great tension as a nation tries to rebuild itself from the ashes of defeat. And in II Thessalonians, Paul is facing a congregation in which everybody has decided to stop working because the end of the world was coming. He wants them to believe in the Lord’s return, but he also wants them to get back to work, lest they all starve before Jesus returns. And in Luke, there is a great deal of travail and struggle reflected in the struggles and persecution of the early church which saw a new beginning in the coming end.
These Biblical reflections on the end remind us that yes; there is an end, for all of us, for each of us, and for all things. And to be prepared for our own end as we die, well, that is not a bad thing. Live each day like it is a precious gift. Let our days be marked with compassion and forgiveness.
Yes there is an end, and with it will be anxiety, fear, struggle, hardship and pain. Those things give rise to the sense that the end is near. When we face hardships and the anxieties they create, we may sense that the end is close. And when that anxiety grows overwhelming, it’s a good idea to talk about it with friends and with God in prayer.
Yes, there is an end, filled with various hardships and issues; but, in all of these readings and most of the others like them in the Bible, the end becomes a transformation. It turns out, we do not only live in the Lord, we die in the Lord. The ending becomes a change into something else. Many of the things that we worried about in the past have later become those things that helped us grow. Eventually all creation will find its way back to God.
So through these readings, as we raise the human fear and anxiety that is part of life, let us still see that God has given our fragile future a durability, that we will make it through, one way or another, and as Paul suggests, that we really need to go back to work!