When will the end of the world happen? This is a question that people have been trying to answer for a long, long, time. The Romans thought it would be 634 BC, based on a number that 12 eagles had revealed to their legendary founder, Romulus. Hippolytus of Rome said it would be 500 AD based on some formula he derived from the dimensions of Noah’s Ark. Pope Sylvester II said it would be 1000 AD at the close of the millennium – riots occurred, and people flocked to Jerusalem. Martin Luther said no later than 1600. Billy Graham said the 1950’s. Everyone thought the Y2K bug would crash computers and cause catastrophes that would destroy civilization as we know it. Some people interpreted the Mayans as saying it would be Dec. 21, 2012. Then Warren Jeffs said Dec. 23, 2012…and when that didn’t happen, he said Dec. 31, 2012. Norse mythology, Sir Isaac Newton, and Orthodox Judaism say that it’s still coming. So when will the end of the world be? That’s the big question.
It’s the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, and so the Church is coming to the end of our liturgical year as well. Next weekend is the Solemnity of Christ the King, which finishes off the Sundays in the season of Ordinary Time, and then it’s on to the new liturgical year with Advent. And so the next two weeks, the Church is using this end of the year theme to mirror a greater mystery – the end of history.
This sort of thing can be interesting to us. Movies are made about catastrophes and natural disasters and the end of the world. We usually think about angels and judgment and all the things that come with it. The big question is the same one that it was in Jesus’ time: when will the end come?
Today, Jesus gives us a few signs, saying that there will be wars and famine. The Book of Revelation says there will be an Anti-Christ. The Book of Malachi that we had for our first reading says that it will be a day blazing like an oven. All of these are signs of the end times. But here’s the thing: we have already had wars and famines for the past 2000 years. There always seem to be people in every generation who blatantly stand out as “anti-Christ”, whether it be Hitler, Stalin, or whoever. And of course, every single summer in St. Louis feels like a blazing oven.
What I would suggest is that we’re missing the point if we are seeking a sign or a date for the end times. The second coming of Jesus, the end of the world, transcends the logic of human history. We don’t know when, how, or why Jesus will come. We can’t figure out a date, nor should we. The point is that it will come, and is coming, and we are called to prepare. We don’t prepare by building bomb shelters or stocking up on bread and milk, but in hopeful anticipation. Sometimes in theological terms, we use the Greek word Parousia to describe the end times. But this word more literally means the welcoming or grand arrival of an important guest. That’s how we are called to approach the end – with hope and welcoming of the coming of Christ.
With the recent success of Mizzou football, it has me all fired up about the coming bowl games, and really, I think it’s a nice analogy for our lesson today. There is some tendency in our culture to avoid thinking of the last things – the great truths like death and judgment. We are simply told to enjoy ourselves while we can and don’t worry about the bigger picture. But really, that view of the end is completely backwards! It would be like telling Henry Josey or James Franklin to just enjoy their time sitting on the sidelines of the football game. Enjoy some Gatorade, stretch out, and relax, right? No way! That doesn’t make sense to these players!
A good football player enjoys the game by playing hard and doing his best to win. He knows that the 4th quarter is right around the corner, the clock is ticking, and the time will soon run out on the clock. And when it does, he makes his way back to the locker room – bruised, sweaty, and exhausted – and he wants three things. First, he wants a shower, obviously. But he also wants to know that he won the game, and that he pushed himself as hard as possible to play his part in that win.
The lesson of the Gospel is that our lives are similar. Yes, they will come to an end some day. The clock is ticking, and the 4th quarter is on the way. But there is also a big difference. A football player can give his all and still lose. He can be satisfied with his performance, but still disappointed with the outcome. But as Christians, we play to win. If we as Christians give our all in the time we have, spending our lives fighting to be more like Christ each day – in spite of hardships, sufferings, persecutions, opposition, and enemies – then victory is assured, and satisfaction is assured.
Today as we gather for this Mass, we, like the Church, are mindful that the end times will come. But we come to the Eucharist striving to give our all – to prepare, to hope, and to imitate the love of Christ each day. As we receive the Eucharist, the foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven, let us receive what we need to be holy in this life, and to live with God forever in the next. Amen.