22 Nov 2015
“‘They will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.’” (Matt. 24:30)
In the name …
We’ve come to the end of another church year, and as we do so the church directs our attention to the end of time as we know it. The church reminds us that when everything else collapses under its own weight, when everything else is fatigued, that Jesus always remains. This is supposed to be a message of hope and assurance, not of fear or anxiety. We’re supposed to find strength in this message not be scared out of our wits by world-ending cataclysm. And for all its talk about signs of the end, trying to predict when it will happen have been and always will be absolutely futile. Evidence of this is right in the Bible itself, right in today’s reading as a matter of fact. Matthew is writing to a Jewish-Christian congregation. They remain respectful of the Jerusalem Temple as the House of God, and Matthew’s congregation witnessed firsthand the destruction of that Temple by the Roman army. They thought for sure that this must be a signal of the end of time and Jesus’ return. This is why Matthew’s Jesus can say, “‘This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.’” (24:34) Well, it did and so have about 80 other generations, and still the end has not come.
I was talking with Fr. Sen. Rob at our clergy retreat this past week. He had been on a cruise ship the week before where the convention was held for our church’s fraternal. They were cruising the Caribbean. I’ve never been on a cruise ship, but he told me that out to sea cell phones can start to act a bit wacky. Their convention was scheduled to begin with Mass early in the morning on the first day. Some people were using their cell phones as alarm clocks. The cell phone alarm goes off, people are tired as they expected to be, they go through the motions of getting cleaned-up and dressed, they head down in the early morning darkness and quiet to attend Mass. After a while these exhausted delegates start wondering why others aren’t coming to Mass as well. That’s when they slowly begin to realize that the clocks on their cell phones out at sea don’t work. Fr. Rob told me that these people were ready for church not at 7AM, but at 2AM! It’s the same way when we try to use our clocks in God’s eternity. Predictions of the end time are always going to fail. Hopefully this will let us look more deeply into the idea of God’s time and how it is supposed to be treated.
Maybe to better understand the end of time we need to understand the beginning of God’s time, and this takes us back to the Book of Genesis. We’re hopefully all familiar with the story of the seven days of creation. This doesn’t need to be read literally to be inspiring. The first two days of creation come and go. On the third day, however, life appears and God starts calling each day “good.” On the sixth day human life appears and God calls us “very good.” But it’s not until the seventh day, the Sabbath, when no act of creation takes place, that we hear of the first of God’s blessings in the Bible. God blesses and hallows that day of rest and reflection. The first of God’s blessings is not of a thing or of a person. It is of time. Time is sacred, and today’s readings remind us that it is also limited. When time will run out, none of us has a clue. So we’re being reminded that we don’t need to fret over the date and hour of Jesus’ return when time ends. We need to make the most of the time we have now.
I was away last week at our clergy retreat for a couple of days. I actually look forward to those days. I give our retreat leader credit though for helping us to realize that to find sacred time we don’t always need to set aside two full days in a beautiful setting by the ocean. It’s great when you can do it, but sacred time is almost always available if we make it available. He told us the true story of a man who was walking across the country for a certain cause. At some point along the way the media discovered him and his story. When he finally finished his cross country walk, a reporter asked him what his greatest obstacle was as he crossed some 3,000 miles. After a moment of silence, the man answered, “The sand in my shoes.” He crossed mountains, rivers, deserts. Faced traffic, loneliness, fatigue. But it was the sand in his shoes, that constant, small irritation, that proved his greatest obstacle.
Sacred time is the first of God’s blessings. I would love to take a small group on an overnight retreat, but I don’t know if there would be the interest. I think we may imagine, as one Trappist monk told me when I was about 20 years old, that “wasting time with God” may be thought of as just wasted time. But I remind you that the first of God’s blessings is time and it’s not infinite. We sacrifice so many chances at sacred time even without bringing up the possibility of a retreat because of those constant, small irritations and distractions of life. They’re always going to be there, and if one is removed, another is going to emerge. We can let them steal all of our time or we can make the conscious effort to treat time differently – as a blessing.
This is the message I hear in end-time prophecies. Time will end so make it count while we can. A theologian I admire has taught that the stories of the end-time are as literal as the stories of the beginning of time. We’re not supposed to get all caught up in the details and the dates. Churches and people, even sacred authors, have only made mistakes when they try to predict what God will do, and that’s going to become crystal clear once we get into the season of Advent next Sunday. I don’t know how or when Jesus will come back, but I don’t need to. The people waiting for the Messiah 2,000 years ago thought they knew what God was going to do, but God surprised most all of them in Bethlehem. And I doubt that all of God’s surprises are used up so I wouldn’t worry too much about seeing signs of the end-time every time we turn on the news. Let us pray instead that we learn to better appreciate and take advantage now of God’s first blessing of sacred time. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo