And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. Luke 21:25-28
In his sermon last week Fr. Sean said, “Your life is a pilgrimage toward a specific destination – We will face judgement and spend the rest of eternity either pridefully turning our backs against the great gifts of God or enjoying the pure beauty of the Trinity forever. “ That is, we will spend eternity in either heaven or hell and the choice is ours.
The purpose of every human life is our relationship with God the blessed Trinity. In part we live out our relationship with God through our relationships with one another, our spouses, children, parishes, families, neighbors, co-workers and communities. Our relationship with God is tied to our relationships with each other. “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all thy soul and all thy mind and love thy neighbor as thyself.” For all who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, God’s judgement is not a reason for fear, rather God’s judgment is our ground of hope.
In the collect for today we gave thanks to God because He has caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning and in learning about the nature and character of God we might have hope. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to the end that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (Jn 3:16) Paul declared in Romans 15, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we might have hope.” The hope God offers his people has always been present in the Scriptures.
In the Garden of Eden, after the fall God turned to the serpent/tempter saying “cursed are you!” God then makes a promise, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head,and you shall bruise his heel.” God would bring salvation into this world through a woman.
In Michaelangelo’s great fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel the creation of Adam is depicted. Adam is reclining on the earth. God in heaven reaches out to touch Adam. Michaelangelo depicts God in a swirling cloud surrounded by angels. Nestled in God’s arm is a woman. She is paying close attention to the scene taking place. The woman is not Eve but Mary who will bear the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ who will take upon Himself the judgement for our sins on the cross and bring salvation to humanity.
The narrative of God’s call for Abraham begins in Genesis 12. God calls Abraham to leave his home and follow Him to a land he would give to his descendents, a land flowing with milk and honey. One thing in this that troubled Abraham is that he and his wife, Sarah, had no children, so this promised blessing has a big question attached to it.
In Genesis 15 God came to Abraham again to renew His promise. Abraham, who was still childless, brought that problem up with God and asked, “how can I be sure about this since I have no son?” God invites Abraham to join Him in a covenant, a covenant in which the two parties would make promises to one another as they walked together between slaughtered cattle and sheep. Walking between the dead animals signified that those making this covenant would keep it on penalty of death. Later in the evening, after the animals for the ceremony had been slaughtered and placed in two rows and Abraham had kept the birds of prey away and the sun set, a deep sleep fell on Abraham. When the time came for the covenant to be sealed God stood alone in that place of reckoning taking upon Himself the full burden of death in His covenant with Abraham and his descendents. God took upon Himself the promise, “Through you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
As Jesus’ procession made its way slowly down the Mt. of Olives he came near to Jerusalem and saw it, he wept over the city saying, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42) Sin blinds us.
Jesus was in the Temple daily teaching. One day some people remarked on the Temple’s beauty. King Herod the Great, like many powerful men, built a lot of big things by which he hoped to be admired and remembered. The greatest of these building projects was his massive expansion and rebuilding of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, by all accounts the materials were lavish and the scale was grand. At certain times during the day the temple Mt would shine and gleam in the sunlight. Some of those massive stones remain to this day.
Jesus responded to the praise and admiration of all this man-made beauty saying, “As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
Jesus continued his frightening discourse laying out the desolation and destruction to come upon earth beginning with the City Jerusalem. The day would come when the City of David would be torn down and utterly destroyed by her enemies. Jesus warned them that there would be false messiahs whose lies would deceive and lead people astray. There would be wars and commotions, nation shall rise against nation.
He comforted his disciples saying, do not be terrified for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
Jesus went on to say, “there will be earthquakes, plagues and famines, and persecutions.” Families and society will fall apart in anger and strife, turning on one another. His followers will be hated for his name’s sake even by their own families and killed.
All this must take place. They are taking place before our very eyes today as our society turns more and more to the dark things which oppose the purpose of God. This is the way of our fallen world. All these things will happen for they will precede our Lord’s Second Coming. History unfolds according to God’s will and purpose so that His perfect judgement is fulfilled.
After Jesus spoke of the hardships to come in this present age He spoke of a distant future. Quoting the Prophet Daniel Jesus declared that the whole of creation will witness the coming of the Son of Man on a cloud in power and great glory. At that time the powers of heaven will be shaken. The terrors that come upon earth will cause humanity to fall into terror and dread.
The nations will cower and cast their gaze down upon the things of this present world, hoping in human progress, trusting in human solutions, human wisdom and believing in human power to save itself, all to no avail.
But what about us, His Church, all who have been baptized into His Name, who have been filled with the Holy Spirit, imbued with the heavenly virtues of faith, hope and love, we who have been nourished on the Bread of Heaven . . . How are we to live in this present age, waiting for the Kingdom of Heaven to come? We are not to cower, we are not to look down to ourselves. We are to look up, to lift up our heads as our redemption draws ever nearer.
How do we do that? As Fr. Glenn has taught us that we must learn to be attentive. Looking up and lifting our heads means that we are attentive to God in regular and frequent worship and prayer. To look up and lift up our heads means that we are attentive to God’s will for our lives as revealed in the Scriptures and teachings of the Church, weighing our habits and desires according to God’s will for our lives. Looking up and lifting our heads means that we must be attentive to God in our relationships with other people, looking out for and loving others in tangible and concrete ways, especially those close to God’s heart, the widows, orphans and those unlike us in our rich and indifferent world. Look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.