A Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, delivered at St. Laurence Church, Southlake, Texas
For yet "in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back. From the letter to the Hebrews, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” So says the letter to the Hebrews, and our Lord Jesus proves the point in today’s Gospel lesson. “There will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation,” He tells us, “and if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved”-- bone-chilling Word of God from the Son of God’s own lips. And the Gospel according to Mark is not alone in painting such a bleak picture of the End of Days. We find much the same thing in Isaiah and Jeremiah, Joel and Amos, Matthew and Luke, and above all, in the Revelation to St. John. These Scriptures all agree: Christ’s final appearance at the consummation of all things will be preceded by catastrophe for those whose allegiance is to “the world, the flesh and the Devil.” In the understated words of the Psalmist today, “Those who run after other gods shall have their troubles multiplied.” Yet for the household of faith the Coming of God is not about death and fear, but life and joy. For “in [God’s] presence there is fullness of joy, and in [His] right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
Every Sunday we affirm in the Nicene Creed that Christ Jesus “will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” Without doubt the world “will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” With His final triumph the Lord of all creation will finally annihilate sin, and death, and every other form of evil that infests our present age. This has always been the faith of the Church, and it will remain so until He returns.
We must not forget, however, that our Savior also warned us that much will remain unknown to us about the End of Days. “Concerning that day and hour no one knows,” Jesus said, “not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” While there is no shortage of TV preachers, potboiler novels, and second-rate films that purport to describe the precise time and character of our Lord’s Second Coming, these speculations are neither Biblical nor consistent with Sacred Tradition. It is a fact that our Lord Jesus will return in glory, perhaps before lunch today, perhaps a million years down the road. But attempting to decode the Revelation to St. John using The New York Times or The Bible Code as a key cannot work. If the incarnate Son of God did not know the details of the end of the age, then you and I will certainly never know.
But if we must remain ignorant of the exact nature and timing of the Final Victory of God why bother with today’s Gospel lesson? Because, friends, the End of Days has in fact come—for us--right here, right now. The words of Christ we just heard resonate with our own time just as much as they do with Judgment Day. Can anyone who is aware of the present assault on the Catholic faith and apostolic order of Christ’s Church doubt that we are seeing a “desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be”? Or travel to Barnes & Noble and examine the “Spirituality” section. You will find a legion of books laying out the author’s vision of the “historical Jesus,” a man-made Jesus that invariably suits the tenor of our times better than the Word-made-Flesh we meet in the Holy Scriptures. Brothers and sisters, “if anyone says to you, … 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'Look! There he is!'--do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear … to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” Never were truer words spoken. Twenty-first century America specializes in the “desolating sacrilege” business!
But--thanks be to God!--for you and me the Lord has cut short these days. For those who have repented and believed the Good News, those regenerated by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever have slipped the shackles of this present age. The rules of “the world that is passing away” no longer quite apply. We are still in that world, but we are no longer of it. We still taste of death but we do not truly die, “for the hour is coming and now is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” With Christ’s call to us the present and the future are collapsed into one, and the result is eternal life. The Lord’s gift of eternal life both transcends time and brings about its consummation, for what we call “the End of Time” is simply another name for “the goal of history.” And the ultimate goal of history was ordained by God before the foundation of the world: we were destined to abide with Him in blessedness forever through Christ Jesus our Lord.
In a few minutes we will commemorate God’s supreme act of love when our Savior poured out His life for us on the cross, cutting short our days of separation from the Source of Life. The sacrifice of Calvary was one moment in history, but it is also beyond time. Even now Christ our Lord is offering Himself up for us before the throne of glory, and he will do so eternally. And as Christ pours out His precious Body and Blood for us again in the Blessed Sacrament today, God’s inexaustible love is made manifest again in time. This morning at St. Laurence history reaches its climax when Father _____ re-presents Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice and we are reunited with our Creator by taking the substance of the One through whom all things were made into our souls and bodies. There is no such thing as “just another Mass,” for at every Eucharist “the end of the age has come, the goal of history has been realized.”
This altar is a place where time and eternity intersect, where the commonplace and the sacred meet. If we have eyes to see it, Here is Jacob’s ladder, where angels and archangels and all the company of heaven descend to sing the Sanctus with us. Here is Mount Sinai, where the people of God are forged by the blood of the covenant. Here is the blood-soaked wood of Calvary and the bare stone slab of Easter. Here is the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Lamb’s Book of Life. Here is the Heavenly Banquet and “the medicine of immortality”. The altar of the Living God is a singular place where time as we know it loses its meaning and the barrier between this world and the next becomes tissue paper thin. On this altar the whole of salvation history is brought to a point of radiant intensity and the most precious substance imaginable—the very blood of God—enters time and space. And there is enough genuine Life in one drop of that precious blood to empty every grave on the planet.
No wonder Daniel tells us today that the righteous “who sleep in the dust” will shine like stars through faith! Who wouldn’t shine in the presence of such glory? Let us all treasure up that in our hearts as our Reverend Fathers raise the chalice and host, and we behold the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world, the climax of history, and the End of Days. Come, let us adore Him. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.