November 18, 2006

The End of the World

Here's my homily for this weekend:

My grandmother lived down the road from here in Gloucester, Massachusetts. When she was getting on in years she would speak very matter-of-factly about her coming departure from this world. She would say things like,

“I’ll never need to buy any more socks; I have all the socks I’ll ever need.” Or one day when we were at “Stah Mahket” she said,

“I’m so old; I don’t even buy green bananas anymore!”

Such plain talk about death and dying can seem shocking to us who live in a culture that is so bent on denying death. Medicines and consumer products promise to make us look and feel younger. Even the normal signs of aging and growing up, like my ever-disappearing hair, are supposed to be a cause for shame, and a cause to give somebody our money for a remedy.

But thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ, our death is not something to look upon as an evil to be feared or as a misfortune to be denied. Our death is the moment when all of the love we have given and received for the Lord’s sake, all of the goodness we have struggled to do, and all of the grace we have rejoiced in are summed up all at once. As we leave this world, all of the love, grace, and goodness of our lives are sealed into history and become permanent and indestructible in the Lord. And we ought to rejoice in such a thing as a graced destiny that is given to us by God.

And as each of us has an end that we can look forward to, so does the world as a whole. Every year at this time the Scriptures we proclaim at Mass lead us to reflect on this final destiny of creation. Today we begin the last two weeks of the year of grace 2006, and at the end of the liturgical year we are always invited to reflect on the end of the world.

Now there are a ton of people out there who would like to help you to reflect on the end of the world, from the protestant evangelical authors of the popular Left Behind series, to the Jehovah’s Witnesses who come to knock on your door. Trouble is, when folks reflect upon and look forward to the end of the world, they tend to create it in their own image. Mostly when I listen to them, I don’t hear about the glory of our Lord, but about eternal rewards and vindication for the speakers themselves and the punishment and misfortune of those they don’t approve of.

And when you hear preachers talking about rewards for themselves and punishments for everybody else, rather than preaching the glory of God, run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit.

But what are we catholic Christians to say about the end of the world? Well, if we stick close to the Word of God as we hear it here in the assembled community of faith, we can’t go wrong.

Already in the book of the prophet Daniel, six or seven generations before the birth of our Lord, we hear about the Resurrection. The prophet describes the rising of the dead as the great sign of the end of the world.

And this Resurrection has already begun! The Resurrection of Christ, the great mystery of our faith, is the end of the world breaking into human history. We look forward not to a Resurrection that is just about us as individuals, but about us as the Body of Christ, as those who have become the members of the Lord through our Baptism! This is why St. Paul can call Jesus the “first fruits from the dead.”

By our baptism and our reception of the Body and Blood of the Lord in Holy Communion, we share in the very Resurrection of Christ. The Body of Christ that we receive is the Body of Christ that we are, and it is the same body that was Risen from the tomb on the third day.

This is how we may take the gospel we proclaim today from St. Mark’s apocalypse:

And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

Now this isn’t like with superman: “Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane.” No. In fact, the opening of the Acts of the Apostles, you will remember, has the Risen Lord himself asking the disciples, “men of Galilee, why are you standing looking into the sky?”

No, seeing the Son of Man coming in the clouds, the Lord Jesus Christ who is the meaning and purpose of time and history, it isn’t about looking up into the sky or looking forward to future events in a merely human history. It’s about right now, and about what we are doing right now.

The Son of Man who is the judge of the world comes to us in the Scriptures we hear and in the sacrament we receive. The Body of Christ we receive here at Mass is the Body of Christ eternally raised from the dead, it is the Resurrection itself that we consume and take into our own lowly bodies!

This Resurrection is the end of the world in the sense of being the purpose, or goal of the world. In the Eucharist God gives us this Resurrection in the Body of his only-begotten Son. In our communion we are brought into the goal or purpose of all creation. We ourselves are fashioned and made into the end of the world.

And let’s take some comfort and encouragement from all this! The day-to-day struggles and the pains and inevitable decay we suffer in this life are not the whole story. We know that there is a deeper meaning, a deeper purpose to human life and the world. We know that all of the anxieties and pains we suffer for the sake of each other, all of the love we struggle to give to and accept from one another, all of this is summed up in the life and ministry, the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus.

And by his own Resurrection from the dead, Jesus will bring all of our love and pain and meaning along with him into the Risen life with God that is the real goal, purpose, and end of the world.

So let us praise the Lord and receive Communion in faith and gratitude, for by our Communion with him we will be caught up into the Resurrection and have our little lives hidden away in God for all eternity.

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