Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32
Among the many memories of my youth I clearly remember the moment when it first dawned on me that when I died the world would go on happily without me. The thought came as an unpleasant shock which no one else seemed particularly interested in sharing with me.
'When I die the world will go on - without me!' I was shaken to my foundations. It didn't seem right - it didn't seem fair - and the thought of a world without me in it didn't seem possible. The idea of dying was bad enough, a humiliation, but that my family and friends would go on contentedly without me was unthinkable.
It is fortunate that growing up resolves all those puzzling childhood dilemmas. Of course I will die one day, of course the world will go on after me, as it did before me, and then, one day the world, too, will grow old and die.
The gospel, written 2000 years before modern science, gives its account of this moment and sounds like it's on the right track: The sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Scientists have it all worked out. They tell us in great detail how all this will happen as the sun goes into decline, expands, and then, collapsing in on itself, explodes in an unimaginable conflagration. Everything else will, of course, go haywire. Planetary orbits and so on ... distress, despair, disaster, destruction - the END!
Not so, asserts the gospel, confidently stepping beyond the limitations of science - not the end at all!
...then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.
Not only is it not the end it seems, reassuringly, to be a new beginning.
Firstly, it is the moment of the revelation of Jesus in all his glory. This truth should be the subject matter of a lifetime's fruitful meditation. To see our Lord, to behold his face, to be able to discard our faith in favour of the clear vision of him who is our shepherd and redeemer - ecstasy!
Secondly, it is a moment of rescue, of salvation. Those of us who call ourselves disciples of the Son of Man, his chosen ones, who have a certain hope in his merciful love for us, will be gathered ... from the four winds.
No need to be surprised at this. Is this not what a true shepherd does? Is it not his task to gather the flock and to save it from destruction? Is this not what he always promised? And no need to be surprised also, as the Psalms say, that his enemies will be blown away like chaff in the wind.
Clearly today the readings look forward to this moment of the dissolution of the world and the second coming of the Master. Just count the number of times the word will is used - and each time it is used with the force of a promise. The word of God has spoken and it will not pass away.
Today's readings, because they are part of the wider apocalyptic writings of sacred scripture, use images which announce the approach of the end. The disciples had read these images in the Old Testament and now they hear them from the lips of Jesus himself and the natural question, which comes to our minds too, came to their lips - When, Lord, when will all this happen?
This is a natural human question. Our minds like to join the dots, to make logical connections which establish a timeline. Jesus, however, does not answer this question because, in his human nature, he does not know the answer.
But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.
We might find it puzzling that Jesus would give us so many signs of the end and yet not be able to tell us when the end would come. On one level, of course, this has a positive dimension in that it allows that final moment to remain a present possibility for all of us. Knowing the moment of our own death could cause us endless anxiety or, perhaps, to leave our turning to God to our final moments.
My own meditation on the subject leads me to understand that the end of the world, in a sense, parallels the end of our own life. We too have signs of the end of our life - a heart attack here, a cancer scare there, a near miss on the roads, a bout of pneumonia, or simply a headache. These are all signs of our mortality and they grow more insistent the older we get.
So we know the signs, they are clear enough, but they don't answer the question when, and so it is with the end of the world.
All we can do is be prepared. We must stand ready as we live our lives in full view of that door which stands always open to receive us, the door to eternal life. It may be today, it may even be now, that we are called to pass through that door.
So ... when you see these things happening: know that he is near, at the very gates.