Sermon: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Texts: Wisdom 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The end of the world is nigh!”
There is a common theme to today’s readings, and that is the uncomfortable truth that it isn’t going to last forever.
The book of wisdom, the teaching of Paul and the parable of the wise and foolish virgins are all concerned with getting ready for the last things. Indeed, in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 25 begins the final phase of the evangelist’s message and is concerned with looking towards Our Lord’s passion, resurrection and then his return in Glory, an event which has a technical term: the Parousia.
Even in this day and age, when fire and brimstone is less threatening than nuclear holocaust or terrorist outrage, the notion that it might all go up in a puff of smoke is quite difficult for us in modern society to get our heads around. The man with the “end of the world is nigh” billboard seems as anachronistic as debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin or the ensuring comprehensive NHS dental cover for everyone.
The theological term for discussing the parousia is called eschatology. It is concerned with “the last things” and it is not really an obscure theological debate because it must and should concern each and every one of us, for I am afraid that I have to break the news to you: that we’re all going to die.
We are all going to die at some point. Benjamin Franklin once famously said
“Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes”
Eschatology is a concern for us all, for we are desperate to know what happens after we die. You can see from the letter to the Thessalonians that it was a concern of theirs to Paul, and I only have to open a women’s magazine to find a page of “spiritual enquiries” about the departed: seeking consolation, seeking the help of mediums (media?) to contact the dead, when I believe sincerely that the departed should remain where they are – safe in the loving arms of God. People have genuine spiritual concern about death, which they know they cannot cheat.
The problem we have is that heaven, the last days, the actual being gathered into those loving arms is so difficult for us to imagine, that Christ himself, his evangelists and apostles and many who have followed have had to use such bizarre imagery to try and bring it to a level we can conceive that it appears, especially to modern rational minds, unreal, surreal perhaps.
You only have to read a little of the book of Revelation to wonder what John the Divine was putting in his tea:
Turn to Revelation 5:1-14
I am not going to read through this now, but make a note of it and read it later, and think of how bizarre it all sounds.
So, if worship is strange and unfamiliar in this environment, think how much stranger it will be in the last days. Paul writes vividly to the Thessalonians about everyone being gathered up at the blast of the trumpet.
At the trumpet of God, the voice of the archangel will call out the command and the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then those of us who are still alive will be taken up in the clouds, together with them, to meet the Lord in the air. So we shall stay with the Lord for ever. With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another. (1 Thess 4:14-18)
But notice: it does not suggest that anyone will be left behind. It does not imply that God ignores some people. God will give each and everyone of us the opportunity to respond to God, to come to him, whether on this side of the earthly divide or on the other.
This is why Paul reminds us:
With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another
(1 Thess 4:18)
Turn to the book of Proverbs and you will find:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
In the words of the writer of the book of Wisdom (not Solomon itself as was commonly held for this text is only found in the later Greek versions of the Hebrew Scriptures predating Jesus by only a hundred years or so), we need to be ready and waiting for the Lord.
Matthew tells us much the same. Both the book of Wisdom and the Gospel of Matthew encourage us to be: γρηγορεύω (greg-or-you-oh) – to be prepared, to be vigilant for the coming of wisdom – for the coming of the awareness of God, only to find that wisdom – the word of God (the logos) is already there at the gate.
In the same sense, although we wait expectantly as Christians for this strange and marvellous second coming, we need to recognise that in reality, he never left us. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Christ himself tells us in the great commission:
Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, (20) and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.
This is especially relevant as immediately after this mass, we baptise four more children into the family of God, into the way of Salvation, but notice: “I will be with you, even until the end of the world”
We are not called to just clean up our acts just before Christ comes on the scene. In Brighton I recall a T-Shirt which tickled me “Jesus is coming – look busy”. We are not called to have everything falsely or artificially sorted in our lives in order to pass inspection: Christ expects us all to deal with it now – to have all our lamps trimmed and ready as the popular phrase of his age said.
• If we have relationship issues within our families, with our neighbours, our friends: he expects us to deal with it.
• If we have issues which need to be brought to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), then he expects us to come and make our peace with God.
• If we need to deal with uncomfortable things in our lives: addictions, weaknesses, things which have interfered with our relationship with God, then we need to put them aside.
Be ready, not just for some unspecified time in the future when the balloon goes up, but be ready now.
“Live each day as if it were your last” is not a call to hedonism, but a recognition that things which need to be right should be made right now, and not put off.
Yes, the end of the world is nigh, so why not take the opportunity to do something about it?