As our liturgical year draws to a close, we are in the last chapter of Mark’s gospel before Christ’s Passion and Resurrection. Jesus is putting an exclamation point on his public preaching and he is going out with a bang. Mark’s entire 13th chapter is a chilling exposition of the end of days.
A candid confession: I have never been very comfortable reading about the coming cataclysm, much less preaching about it. The idea literally scares the hell out of me. But, doubtless, that is what God intended. It’s a stark reminder that our loving God is not a pushover. He is merciful, but he is just.
So what are we to take away from these dire predictions? First of all, it is the revealed word of God. We can quibble with it. We can deny it. But we’re not going to change it. We must live with it. And more than that, we must learn to embrace it. Whether our own end times comes individually or as a species, it most surely will come. And in the context of eternity, distinctions about the means and the time are of marginal significance. How God chooses to gather us home is his business. We pray for a merciful passage. But his will be done.
I’m sure that from time to time most of us share Woody Allen’s sentiment that: “I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Hopefully we’re not as fixated or neurotic as Woody. But his is a natural, human reaction to the uncertainty that surrounds the absolute certainty of death. The difference is we have the ultimate ace in the hole. Jesus has promised an endless second act to this life’s drama.
Another confession: I am a life-long fan of Bugs Bunny cartoons. After five-minutes of furious fun at the expense of Elmer Fudd, Bugs would always give his signature sign-off: “That’s all folks.” But it never was “all.” Bugs would always be back with another adventure. In Mark 13, Jesus is telling “That’s all folks” for the earth and for our life on it. But Jesus is promising a new and far greater adventure: The Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory… (to) gather his elect from the four winds.
And if we have paid any attention to the first twelve chapters of Mark, we know with certainty, that this life is not all there is. We are not facing our end. We are facing our beginning. Over and over Jesus has promised eternal life to those who believe in him. Through the Resurrection he conquered death and is a daily presence in the lives of all believers. And that is the secret of coming to grips with mortality.
With his own mortality approaching, Jesus warns us Beware, keep alert. While we don’t know the day or the hour, both for ourselves or for the earth, he tells us: He is near. Keeping God near, or more to the point, keeping near to God is what this life is all about. And whether our last moments are spent slipping peacefully off or in cataclysm, the destination is the same. We will all soon stand before a loving, but a just, God.
So the big question is not if and when we go to God, but how we go to him. Do we go to face heaven’s Judge as indifferent or alienated strangers? Or do we go as faithful children into the arms of our loving Father? Whether it’s our individual judgment day, or the collective day of reckoning, it’s clearly not the best time to try to make God’s acquaintance. Infinitely better to have our constant conversation with God only briefly interrupted on this side of life’s threshold… and then lovingly picked up again in glory.
God is waiting. He is near. Stay near to him. So when he calls us, we can truly rejoice… That’s all folks! We’re home!
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
Image: Nicolas Poussin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons