Sunday, November 18, 2012
Drawing Back the Veil
This year, we are beginning to hear predictions of calamity surrounding the end of the year 2012. It has something to do with the end of the calendar developed by the Mayan civilization that flourished in South America prior to the arrival of the Spanish and also something to do with predictions made by the French astrologer, Nostradamus. There will be countless television programs about how reliable these predictions are, even though so many of them have failed in the past. And if, God willing, this year comes and goes without incident, there will no doubt be another date in the future for which there will be even more predictions of the end of the world.
All these fears are fed by a sense that we are living in a time of rapid change, and not all of it is for the better. Whether it is the economy, the climate or society in general, things are not as they were in the past. There is great unease in not knowing what lies in the future. Our world feels unbalanced and unstable. It is natural to feel that it is all building up to an unhappy ending.
Both the Old and New Testaments speak frequently about the end of the world and the coming judgment of God. The first reading from the book of Daniel is one example, as is the gospel reading. We call this type of literature in the Bible "apocalyptic" writing. The premiere example of it is the book of Revelations which is also sometimes called the "Apocalypse". Though in our popular culture the word "apocalypse" tends to mean a "catastrophe", the original Greek word literally means "drawing back the veil". When the apocalypse happens, as the Bible teaches us it will, the veil which separates heaven and earth will be opened like a stage curtain. God will be revealed in all his majesty and glory along with Christ so that there will be no doubt that he exists and that his word is true. At the same time, the curtain will be drawn back on us as well. The intentions of our hearts, the good or evil of our actions and our innermost thoughts will be revealed as we stand before the throne of our God.
When the authors of Scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote about the end of the world, they intended neither to scare us nor make exact predictions about when the end of the world would occur. In fact, Jesus tells us that even he does not know when these events would take place. Rather this type of literature appears in the Bible during times of intense persecution to encourage believers to not abandon their faith but to remain faithful and persevere. For example, the book of Daniel from which today's first readings are taken was written at a time when Jews living outside of Jerusalem were being forced to give up their beliefs and traditions. The gospel of Mark as well as the book of Revelations were likewise written at a time when Christians were being fiercely persecuted both in Jerusalem and in Rome. They wanted believers to know and understand that God will appear to judge harshly those who have made his beloved people suffer and that, if they remain faithful to him, they will share in his victory.
In today's world, we are fortunate to have the freedom to worship God and live our faith. But that does not mean that we are not persecuted. We only have to watch television for five minutes or read the front page of the newspaper to see our beliefs and way of life being ridiculed. The message is constantly going out that Christianity is backwards and meaningless in today's world. That along with the upheaval in our society and the allure of material things may cause us to question our faith and make us wonder if the sacrifices our baptismal vows require of us are really worth it. It is at those times that we must remember Jesus' words, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." Governments come and go. Fashions and popular trends come and go. But we are guided by the light of God's word, and we press on with our eyes focused on Christ and his promise of eternal life. When we do so, we can be assured that we will not stumble and fall for Jesus promises us that those who believe in him will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.
Jesus certainly does teach us that the world will eventually come to an end, and there will be much turbulence and tribulation leading up to it. It sounds terrifying. But, for the believer, the end of the world will be glorious. Jesus will reveal himself to all peoples as the Son of God and Savior of the World. As the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, all God's enemies will be placed under his feet. This includes especially sin and death which will have no more power over us. Though we will be judged for the good and evil we have done, we must remember that it is the Father who offered his Son to death for our salvation who will be weighing us in the scales. If we have made a sincere effort to cooperate with his grace and live according to his word, we can be assured that he will look upon us with mercy for he knows our hearts. Our struggle against sin, the sacrifices we have made and the ridicule we have endured will seem nothing when we look upon the face of God and know that we will spend eternity with him.