See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all 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. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.
Sing psalms to the Lord with the harp
with the sound of music.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
acclaim the King, the Lord. (R./)
Let the sea and all within it, thunder;
the world, and all its peoples.
Let the rivers clap their hands
and the hills ring out their joy
at the presence of the Lord. (R./)
For the Lord comes,
he comes to rule the earth.
He will rule the world with justice
and the people with fairness. (R./)
You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labour we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.
For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?"
And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them. "When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately."
Then he aid to them, "Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."
As we get older we know that life is short and that each of us will face the moment of death before many years have passed. Last Sunday, we thought about the after-life and about entrusting our future into God's hands. But how seriously should we take the words of today's Gospel about the day of judgement? It is hard to know what to believe about the Last Day. There are sects and groups who claim to know the exact date of the Lord's coming, and the failure of various previous predictions does not appear to unduly discourage them from setting yet another date for Armageddon.
People have every right to be wary of street-corner orators who delight in threats and warnings about catastrophes about to befall the world. We notice how Jesus warns against believing too readily in such predictions. Even though he himself used the idea of the coming day of judgement as a motive to turn people's hearts back to God, he also said that about the day and the time of this event, "no man knows, not even the Son, but the Father only."
There are too many references to the Final Judgement in our Scripture for us to easily dismiss it as just a figure of speech. And indeed, spiritual people have found important benefits in keeping the Judgement-Day as part of the horizon against which we look at things and assess them at their real value. Seeing our problems, our successes and our wishes in the light of eternity, sub specie aeternitatis, often puts them into a new and different light and one which helps us to judge as God sees things.
Could we follow the classic devotional advice once favoured by preachers, to "always live as though each day may be your last?" For most people, it is probably neither possible nor desirable to regularly centre that much attention on the final things. Sobering and spiritually purifying on occasion, yes; but most days, one must be like Martha in the Gospel story who was fully occupied with her daily work, busy with many things. That's also the practical advice given by St Paul to people in his day who spent their time excitably looking out for the Lord's return and gave up caring about such ordinary tasks as planting and harvesting the crops, keeping up with their business or doing the housework. "Go on quietly minding your own affairs. And if anyone will not work, neither let him eat!"
As we approach the end of the liturgical year we may wonder how to interpret the gospel predictions about the end of this world and the day of judgment. In the midst of all the dramatic language about wars and insurrections and earthquakes and dangers, we should keep in mind one certainty, that one day we will die. The moment of death will put an end, absolutely and beyond recall, to all our works, all our plans, all the seemingly vital concerns which motivate us day by day. Every human soul must cast off its earthly body and go into the unknown like a traveller into unexplored territory. Cardinal Newman wrote about the hereafter, "Do not fear that your life shall come to an end, but rather that it shall never have a beginning." It is when our next life begins that we will clearly understand our present life. It will then be clear to us, to what extent we did our part in spreading God's kingdom.
In these last Sundays of our church year we are meant to look beyond our immediate worries, troubles, interests and largely selfish concerns. The liturgy confronts us with the four last things death, judgment, heaven and hell. People who never look beyond the immediate here-and-now may resent us talking about these things, but there is nothing morbid about it. If we are exiles and wayfarers on this earth, we are drawing ever nearer to our ultimate home in heaven, a thought that need not fill us with sorrow, but with a longing to be with Christ in the life to come.
It is useless speculating about when Christ will return in glory, although many in the earlies years of the Church expected it to be within their own lifetime. His message is to be ever watchful, to let the thought of what is to come be a reminder of the shortness of our present life.We need not be alarmed by the mention of earthquakes, stars falling from the heavens, and the like. This Jewish apocalyptic imagery was used in the early Church to express hope for world-wide justice at the end of time. If we love God we need not be alarmed, for love casts out fear. But until the day when the Lord calls us, we go on preparing to meet him.