Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like the Son of Man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand! Another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, "Use your sickle and reap, for the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe." So the one who sat on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was reaped.
Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Then another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over fire, and he called with a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, "Use your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe." So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and gathered the vintage of the earth, and he threw it into the great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse's bridle, for a distance of about two hundred miles.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he 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.
Towards the end of the liturgical year we meet some of the most alien-sounding literature in the Bible, dealing with the end of the world, which also fascinates so many people. We must be careful in interpreting it, as the language is highly symbolic and non-literal. Indeed, Jesus urges us not to be misled about this theme. The liturgy provides the surest way to apply these passages to our lives, bidding us take responsibility for our actions, examine where we are spiritually, and honestly come face to face with God.
We must be people of sincerity and honesty, not just bluffing our way along. We have to practice justice and mercy, characterized by sympathetic understanding of the human situation of our neighbour. If we have been disappointed with others, perhaps cheated and lied to, we may tend to summon the end of the world for these people, no second chance, let them be totally condemned! Perhaps we need to look at them again, through the eyes of Jesus, who sees to the heart of things. Guided by his spirit, we, like the stone hewn from the mountains, can become the new temple, the new kingdom of God. We must extend this hope to others as well, as we look forward to a new year of grace, beginning in Advent.
Next Sunday is the first day, Advent, the beginning of a new church year. In this last week of the church's year the gospel this morning has to do with endings, in particular the ending, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The disciples expressed amazement at the sight of the Temple; it was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the world at the time. Yet, Jesus announces that a time will come when not a single stone of it will be left on another. It must have been impossible for people to conceive of that ever happening. Yet, in the history of the world so much has passed away that people thought would be around forever.
Even in recent times so much has fallen that once seemed impregnable. We are left asking, 'Will anything endure?' A few verses beyond where this morning's gospel finishes Jesus says, 'Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.' The words of Jesus and the values they express will endure; the one who proclaims those words, the Word made flesh, will endure. When all else fails, the Lord will be there. His relationship with us endures, even when our relationship with him grows weak, as Paul says in one of his letters, 'if we are faithless, he remains faithful.'