Rejoice! Jesus is coming soon!

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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Nov. 18, 2012
Dan 12:1-3; Ps 16; Heb 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32

At this time of year, the days are getting darker, the weather is getting colder; and our liturgical year is coming to its end. Today is the second-last Sunday of the liturgical year, and the last one in which we will hear from the Gospel according to Mark in this Year B of the lectionary cycle. And today we hear a portion of Chapter 13 of that Gospel, in which Jesus is telling his disciples what to expect in the future—so that this chapter is sometimes known as the “Little Apocalypse.”

And we notice that he cautions them: “Of that day or hour, no one knows.” And certainly we know that this is true for each of us individually, when we think about when we will die: no one knows the day or the hour. If we average it out, one of our parishioners here dies about every other week—including this past week. And when that moment comes, the soul separates from the body; the body remains on earth, while the soul goes on to its particular (or individual) judgment in which “each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith.” (CCC 1021-22)

  • If someone dies in a state of mortal sin then that person begins to suffer the punishments of hell (1035);
  • if in God’s grace and friendship and perfectly purified, then they live forever with Christ in heaven (1023-25);
  • if in God’s grace and friendship but still needing final purification, then they begin a period in Purgatory to prepare them to enter the joy of heaven. (1030-31)

On the first day of this month, All Saints Day, we celebrated all of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in heaven. The next day, All Souls, we prayed for all those still undergoing their final purification.

But this state is not the end of the story: not for each soul, and not all of creation, the entire universe. For as we profess in the Creed each week, Jesus Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We heard our Lord Jesus speak of this himself in the Gospel reading today. He has promised, and he will fulfill his promise!

This is our great hope as those who are in Christ! For we do not view history as an unending cycle, as so many ancient cultures did. No, we see history as linear, progressing through a series of transformative events wrought by God himself and leading to a conclusion. At his Second Coming, our Lord Jesus Christ will bring about this glorious conclusion.

Now, suppose that I could tell you with certainty that Christ would return 5 minutes from now. Of course, I can’t do that; no one knows the day or the hour. But suppose I could, so that you could know right now that your life, and indeed all existence as we know it, would be utterly transformed after just 5 more minutes. What would your response to that be?

  • Would you feel nervous and unprepared?
  • Would you feel disappointed and annoyed?
  • Would you feel relieved and joyful?

—if you knew that, 5 minutes from now, as St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians,

The Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thess 4:16-17)

If that idea makes you feel nervous and unprepared, then I urged you: prepare for it! Get ready! Soon we will enter the season of Advent, which is the season each year when we prepare ourselves for the Lord’s Second Coming. What do you need to do to get prepared? Do you need to get right with God? Remember that confession is always offered here, every Sunday at St. Bart’s, at 11:30, not long after this Mass ends. Our Lord Jesus waits for you there, in his love and mercy. Do you need to take care of unfinished business with others? Then please do so. Prepare now to be ready to meet our Lord Jesus when he comes again!

Or, does the idea of his immediate return make you feel disappointed and annoyed—as if you would be missing out on something? That is the sentiment behind what is sometimes called the “bucket list,” a list of things you want to make sure you do before the end of this earthly life. And if you find that this is your reaction, then consider whether you are unconsciously thinking that heaven, and the New Heavens and New Earth, will be boring, in comparison to this earthly life that we know. One day when I was in seminary, I realized that I had been thinking that. And how ridiculous it is: that the infinite Creator of all the wonder and beauty that we know now, would be boring, and would make a boring eternal reward! No, as St. Paul wrote, “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and it has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:9) We won’t miss out on anything when Christ returns.

And so we should feel relieved and joyful at the prospect of Christ returning soon. Our precious Lord, whom we have known and loved in this life—though at a distance, not yet seeing his face with our own eyes, not yet hearing his voice with our ears. Then we shall see face to face; then we shall know fully, as we are fully known. (1 Cor 13:12) Then we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

After the Church passes through that tribulation, the final trial, the persecution, the final unleashing of evil, (675-77) our Lord will return triumphantly. And then all the dead will be raised—soul and body reunited, and the body transformed to be beautiful and powerful and glorious, like Christ’s own resurrection body. (997-99) He will accomplish the Last Judgment, the general judgment, when all will at last be set right, and all will receive what they deserve. (1038-41)

And then the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness; the righteous will reign forever with Christ; and the universe itself will be renewed, transformed into the New Heavens and New Earth. (1042-44) And “he will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

It is no wonder, then, that St. Paul would write that he considered the sufferings of this present time to be nothing compared with the glory to be revealed. (Rom 8:18) This is our great hope: that, no matter how dark it may get, the Light of the World is on his way. He is coming soon. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20)

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