The rhythm of the Scripture readings throughout the Church’s liturgical year, now rapidly drawing to its close, reflect the faith and experience of every believer. From the first moment of life we search beyond ourselves, experiencing the longing expressed in Advent hope and answered in the celebration of Christ’s birth. Throughout the year the scriptures instruct us in the ways of Christ, enabling us to live and grow in his presence. The remembrance of his death and Resurrection at Easter deepen our communion with the Risen Lord, convincing our frailty that the power of his Resurrection is at work within us, enabling us to die to sin so as to live his risen life.
These last two weeks focus on the end of all things, the glorious conclusion of our journey into the fullness of God’s presence. There is, at first sight, a note of threat as these readings focus on the end of time.
The Prophet Daniel, writing in the last two centuries before Christ, spoke of the Archangel Michael guarding God’s people in what would be a time of great distress, unparalleled since the nations came into existence.
This unparalleled distress had already visited the Chosen People in the great persecutions that had threatened Israel’s faith. A new and aggressive world order had tested the very foundations of Israel’s faith. At the cost of life itself, Israel’s martyrs had learned that entrusting ourselves to God, in an unbelieving world, is inevitably costly.
The description of this great distress led to Daniel’s assurance that those sleeping in the dust, the martyrs whose lives had been snuffed out in the relentless advance of an ungodly world, would ultimately triumph in the final establishment of God’s Kingdom. “Some will rise to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace. The learned will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven, and those who have instructed many in virtue, as bright as stars for all eternity.”
These words bring an inescapable challenge. It is the manner in which we live our present lives, with all their joys and disappointments, triumphs and failures, that determines the nature of our final encounter with the God who has called us to himself in love.
Speaking of life’s inevitable end, and the final gathering of all things to the Father, Jesus used the same language as the Prophet Daniel:
“In those day, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling down from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
Jesus was preparing his disciples for the inevitable tribulations that would touch their own ministries. Within their own lifetime they would witness Rome’s savage destruction of Jerusalem. They would be rejected and despised, persecuted and martyred. In the face of such adversity, faith is tempted to question its own conviction. Therefore, Jesus reassured his disciples that the calamities threatening their world would not have the last word. The last word would be with the Son of God coming in power, gathering his elect from the four corners of the earth.
In lesser ways our faith will be challenged and turned upside down by events that we cannot control. We also live in a hostile and unbelieving world. The tragedies and disappointments of life can seem to overwhelm hope, threatening the very foundation of faith and everything that once seemed secure.
Today we proclaim that it is Christ, coming in glory, and not life’s calamities, that determines the outcome of our lives.