At the end of the liturgical year we have readings about end times. Not only are they dramatic but alarming too. We risk being overwhelmed by fear. And it would be a pity indeed if fear is all what inspires our preparation for the Last Day. Perhaps, it’s a sign that we haven’t yet grasped the message of Jesus. So, let’s try to see what Good News we can glean from such apparently frightening readings.
Bible readings Daniel 12: 1–13 Psalm 16: 5, 8–11 Hebrews 10: 11–14, 18 Mark 13: 24–32
Last Day, is it terror?
The readings for this Sunday would make you think of the preaching of John the Baptist that could leave no one indifferent. Everyone hurried to ask John: what can I do to escape the terrible judgment coming? If we can call that conversion, however, we shouldn’t ignore the fear that spurs it.
For Jews, the Last Day, also called the Day of the Lord, was so important that its coming wouldn’t just pass unnoticed. It would be marked by dramatic, extraordinary happenings like the sun and moon ceasing to give light, stars falling, roars of thunder… What a terrible moment! Unfortunately, that contributes significantly to instilling fear, and consequently, one risks remaining an image of God as fierce judge. What a pity! We miss the Gospel. Happily, it’s not too late.
Can’t we look at it differently?
Firstly, we shouldn’t lose sight of who we are. We are Christians because we have welcomed the message of Christ, which is: you are beloved son, you are beloved daughter, of the Father. That’s the Good News. And John reminds us of such identity in a striking way: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 Jn 3:1). We should never lose sight of it. In fact, our fidelity to the message of Jesus is surely about keeping alive this identity in our daily life. That’s why whatever Gospel reading we have, no matter how alarming and fear instilling it may sound, we should never forget to ask ourselves: what’s the Good News in there? What hope does it conform? Trying to answer the same question about the Gospel reading for this Sunday, immediately, I begin to see things differently.
Last Day as love encounter
You probably have had the experience of falling in love, and the accompanying thrill of preparing to meet the one you love. Oh, how you wait with eager! You have a bit of that feeling in Psalm 6:5-11:
“…I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”
Not fear but filial love
These words of the psalm are loaded with sentiments, surely not of fear but of strong desire to meet the beloved one. That’s the Christian hope inspired by the awareness that I’m a beloved child of the Father. As a daughter, and as a son, of the Father I can proudly to stand up, hands raised, and say “Our Father…”. In fact, we can note this Christian hope in the progression of the Gospel reading: from an alarming and sombre painting to the one of brighter and affectionate colours. It begins:
“…the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
But it doesn’t end on that terrible note. The second part is cheerful and soothing. Jesus speaks of a fig tree when its branches become tender and it’s clothed in green leaves. Here we have an image of a transition from the harsh cold season, during which nature is reduced to zero, to spring time when new life begins to bud. It’s green everywhere and flowers blossom. It’s time of love, a time of fecundity -there’s simply no better way to speak of the Last Day as Christians. If we are on fire to prepare for it, it’s not because we are afraid but because we realise that we are on rendezvous for an important date.
Then, I can only pray:
May you be filled with joy as you prepare for your last day, which comes at different moments for each person. Invest the best you can for such encounter of lovers. Indeed, may your life flourish like a fig tree in spring.
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