Monday, November 19, 2018
THE END - Nothing to Fear
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As we are approaching the end of the church year, our readings speak of the end of days, so I thought it would be good to look at the end. Really there are two: the final judgment and the particular judgment, which happens when we die before the final judgment.
Jesus is speaking about the coming of the Son of Man, which we also call the Second Coming of Christ, which begins the final judgment as we profess in the creed that "he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead." The type of imagery Jesus is using is known as apocalyptic. Think of the book of Revelation, which is just the Latin word for Apocalypse, and is almost entirely in apocalyptic language, like our first reading today as well. The prophet Daniel, who speaks of the Archangel Michael in today's passage, reminds us that Jesus' coming will bring glory to some and shame to others. If we are in Christ and united to him, we can look with confident expectation for the return of the one we love and who we know loves us. So - what are we afraid of?
Ultimately, every fear is connected with death, with the loss of some part of life. Death is the loss of all those things combined, and thus is the greatest fear we have by nature. We can overcome this fear, but often it comes too late.
I'm reading a book right now called Being Mortal. It's been a NYTimes best seller for 62 weeks now. It is very well-written, timely, and I highly recommend it. The author, a doctor named Atul Gawande, talks about how our approach to medicine often ignores the fact that we are going to die, and how the choices we make end up missing the main concerns/needs of the patient during the long, slow process of dying. Think of this fact: in the past, almost everyone was susceptible to death by disease or accident or war on any given day, month, or year. We live in a totally different circumstance with modern medicine, so that outside of tragic accidents or acts of violence, we all feel much more assured that our health is not going to bring us home to God tomorrow or next week or even beyond. Because of this, we hear the urgency of the Gospel in a very different way. "Repent today!" doesn't hit as hard. We feel like "the end" will have to be down the road for us, at least certainly not tomorrow.
So we often don't face death until it's right upon us. Confident that medicine can always save us, we very often end up with only days to prepare for something that should be part of a lifetime. For the reality is: it could be today. We know neither the day nor the hour, Our Lord tells us.
Remember I spoke about the word Apocalypse - or Revelation - which literally means to take away the veil. Well, I think the devil has put a veil on us, has pulled the wool over our eyes in so many ways, including the reality of mortality, as well as of fear of death.
Why should we be afraid of Jesus coming back or meeting Him at our own end. God wants to give us something so much better than this life, and we won't lose anything good that we have in this life. All our relationships will be heightened to a more beautiful level because they will all be in Christ Jesus. We pray "thy kingdom come," but do we ever think of how wonderful a gift that Kingdom will actually be? Do we consider how much we really do want His Kingdom to come?
Another truth is: we live a lot better when we face the reality of being mortal. If we face death, we can overcome the great fear that, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, "has subjected us to slavery for our entire lives."
Another book for helping us when loved ones are nearing death: Final Gifts. My mom read it when my grandmother was dying about five years ago. We are all called at different times in life to be like Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry his cross. The final journey is an important time for us to be ready to lovingly support family and friends who are preparing to go to Jesus. They may have worries or concerns or needs that we can be a support for. Perhaps helping someone else is God's way of preparing us for our particular judgement, which will ultimately help us to live every day better.