The Word is very near you. It is not a strange and distant prognostication by a man called Jesus, a man called Paul, or a few unknown writers riding on Paul’s reputation, all of whom thought the end was near. They were not wrong. In the daily goodness of a beautiful world, people eat, drink, marry, and are given in marriage. As one day tells its tale to another, disaster strikes. Two are in the field, one is taken. Two are grinding at the mill, one is taken. After the politics, business, opinion, science, health, and sports of the day’s news cycle, there is a list of compelling and moving obituaries. The time is at hand. The end is near.
Alert to life’s brevity, one is awakened. The end will come, but always, as promised by the life-giving Son of God, “at an unexpected hour.” Keep awake! This is not a pensive and agitated high-alert panic caused by threat. Rather, it is a calm and sober look at a solid bedrock truth of human existence. Time runs out. With the progression of days, salvation draws nearer. Death’s approach is, at the same time, the approach of a death-defeating life once put on at the moment of baptism and the infusion of grace and faith. Death is a grave and gate that opens onto the vista of faith’s landscape, our joyful resurrection (Burial I, BCP, p. 480).
Salvation is secure in Christ, a measure of which we know in time, the fullness of which we will behold in eternity. In time salvation is both a gift and a work. The Lord Jesus is given as a garment, free and beautiful. We put him on. Vested in this coat of color, we change. Or rather, consenting to grace and the secret work of God and the demands of discipline, we may change.
“Let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy” (Rom. 13:13). It may help to rescue the word honorably from its almost exclusive military use in modern English. The Greek adverb implies doing something “properly” or “in a seemly manner.” One acquires by grace an “aptitude” that coordinates one’s disposition and skill with the moral and spiritual demands of a particular circumstance. Reveling, drunkenness, debauchery, and licentiousness impede this delicate and important balance. Grace perfects nature only if nature is clear-eyed, sober, and alert to the supple movement of divine prompting. Again, alertness is not panic, nor is it a prohibition of happiness and joy. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
Salvation in Christ is like a high mountain, the highest of the mountains where the house of God rests. Ascending the mountain, throwing one foot in front of the other, turning at switchbacks, thoughts arise, thoughts of God’s law and God’s path, of going toward the gate at the summit of the mountain. Inside the gate, the city is secure, the ground firm, people bound together, peace within each and every soul. God’s judgment is righteous in the establishment of peace. Every step toward this beautiful summit is taken in time, and time is short.
Ascending this holy mountain, anticipating entrance into the city through death, everyone has some work to do, however humble. Everyone is given grace and with grace a work that is fitting. In fact, it fits so well that it fits no one else. Only you can do the work for which you have been elected.
Look It Up: Read Psalm 122.
Think About It: Among your appointments, remember the unexpected hour. It will come.