The end is near. And the great apocalypse is upon us!
Yeah, today’s readings put me in that kind of mood. Sorry. The first reading and the Gospel are clearly about end times – when life as we know it comes to a halt. And that hardly is something uplifting to talk about. Or is it?
Have you ever thought about how fascinated we are with Armageddon? Much of our media and entertainment is about… the very end. One of the most popular shows on TV is about the zombie apocalypse. There have been a number of movies about machines becoming self aware and then working to either destroy or enslave humans. I recently rewatched the movie, Children of Men, which is about a future when no one can get pregnant anymore, thus creating a dystopian and violent world where people know they are doomed and act that way. One of the biggest movies over the past few years came from Marvel and was about someone from another planet named Thanos who wanted to wipe out all of life with just the snap of his fingers. Thank goodness for the Avengers, otherwise we would have all been toast.
This is all in the world of make believe, but in the real world, we think about this a lot too. When I was a kid, we believed it was all going to end because of nuclear bombs. Later we figured it would be terrorists. Now we are sure that global warming will do us in. Oh yeah, it’s in the Bible too. As I said, two of our readings today are definitely about the very end. It’s pretty gloomy stuff. Or is it?
We are fragile, vulnerable and we were not built to last forever. Poor choices by us or others and the fact that we are comprised of organic matter that degrades over time means that we will suffer. That we have to confront what is eventually coming. I sometimes wonder why all the focus on global end times when, in reality, we all face personal end times. We will, one way or another, experience an apocalypse of one.
Read more closely what the readings suggest about the end times, however. After painting a very dark picture, the first reading from Daniel announces at the end:
“But the wise shall shine brightly
like the splendor of the firmament,
and those who lead the many to justice
shall be like the stars forever.”
There is the darkness, but then there are those who will shine brightly. They will be like stars forever. Forever. This is what hope looks like.
In the Gospel from Mark, we hear that the moon will stop shining and that stars will actually fall out of the sky. But then we also hear:
“And then they will see ‘the Son of Man
coming in the clouds’
with great power and glory,
and then he will send out the angels
and gather his elect from the four winds,
from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.
Jesus is the great antidote, the remedy, the answer. He is light in darkness. And he makes it personal because, according to this Gospel reading, he will gather together those who are among the “elect”. He will pull them together and hold them in his arms, free from worry, free from pain.
The apocalypse of one is far more likely to be your and my eventual reality. A zombie herd could show up here in town, some being from outer space might come here to destroy us, our iPhones and iPads could all become self aware and rise up against us, a nuclear bomb could go off, terrorists could terrorize… you get the picture. In reality, it is far more likely that we will receive news we dread to hear. That we will be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That time will simply catch up to us. That the apocalypse of one will arrive.
Today’s first reading and Gospel equally apply to this, however. In the face of pain and suffering and darkness, he will gather us to him. He will make us shine like the stars. And this is forever. This is eternity.
This is why we believe. Not so that we will be saved from end times but rather so that those end times won’t in fact represent an end at all.
God created us to be his forever children. To shine like the stars… for all of time. The message here is that if we follow, if we live the life we have been called toward, then there really is no such thing as end times.
And this is definitely what hope looks like.