26 Pentecost, November 18
There is, in passages here and there, a great rattling noise in Scripture, trembling and fear, foreboding predictions of the end of all things and the judgment of the world. Such a time is at hand. There is a time for every purpose under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die. Do we consider the frailty of human life and human history as we ought? Do we contemplate our end? Are we waiting and watching? A religion that does not speak of death, that does not face it and name it, leads astray.
“There shall be a time of anguish,” says the prophet, “such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:1-2). Scripture encourages, it strengthens, and it teaches, but it also warns. “Thou only art immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall we return” (1979 BCP, Burial I, p. 482).
Material life and material things, however precious, fail eventually. “As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down’” (Mark 13:1-2). Jesus speaks of wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes in various places. The shaking of the foundations he calls “the beginning of the birth pangs.” This bracing announcement Scripture regards, though we may not initially, as Good News. It startles us to hear the most obvious thing, the mutability and frailty of life, a mortal end in dust and ashes. Indeed, we tell ourselves that we have forever, years and years, time to waste and squander. And so, as often happens, life is lived without attention, without awareness, and without purpose.
If the mortal end of human life is held in view, God’s eternity, immutability, everlasting essence, and attributes break through the fog of common human lethargy. Sometimes crisis gives clarity. “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you’” (Ps. 16:1-2). There is no good, no refuge, no hope apart from God, because he alone is from everlasting to everlasting. Almighty God is the source of all things, the continuing strength in all things, the guiding hand in all things, and the promise of everlasting life to everyone whose name is written in the book. You, O God, hold my lot (Ps. 16:5).
God has set boundary lines to human existence, limits in which we may live and move and have our being. And yet within the limits of human life, God has offered a goodly heritage, and good counsel; God instructs the heart and is ever near. God gives gladness and joy and secure rest to small human lives because he has deigned to enter our lives in the person of Jesus Christ. “I am with you always,” Jesus says, “even to the close of the age.”
Our mortal lives exhaust themselves. We can face this truth because God is our everlasting hope and peace and rest. Face your end by facing God.
Look It Up
Read Mark 13:2.
Think About It
This may be read as a sad description of many parish churches. Churches die and close. Take refuge in God alone.