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The End Is Near
(From the Epistle, The Sunday after Ascension Day:
St. Peter iv.7)

"The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins."

It's amazing how this idea of “the end” pervades even our shared lingo: you hear of “the bitter end”, or “from today 'til Doomsday” as my mother used to say much to my childhood perplexity.

A whistle, a bell, a buzzer, an air-horn mark the end of athletic events. Common expressions:“Game over! That's all she wrote! Times up! It's 'curtains' for you!”. We can't get away from it.

The end is often not something we look forward to, if we like what's going on: the end of a good meal, or a good game, a movie or TV show we like, a beloved piece of music, a lovely day-- we wish they would just continue and never stop. On the other hand, we do look for the end of pain, discomfort, suffering, sickness, unpleasant situations, argument and strife. We look for the end of all evil. “All's well that ends well.” If we go through the BCP lectionary and holy communion readings for Ascension and its octave, we will see many Bible verses associated with prophesied events at the culmination of the age.

We live in a day apparently very preoccupied with the end-times, as we all know. To me this obsession appears to grow out of two rather contrary contemporary conditions: a very uneasy collective conscience, and an insatiable passion for entertainment, be it ever so shocking and novel. The former is the product of living and sharing in times which seem very cut off from God or any thought of Him. We are like space explorers who have severed their lifelines, or undersea divers who have done the same, casting ourselves crazily and suicidally into an oblivion of our own making and choice, with no reference points and no security. In spite of all the uproarious laughter, the talk shows, the serene unconcern, and the vast assurances of science, there lurks a terrible sense of uncertainty, the sort of thing that keeps people lying awake at night, but is rarely the topic of polite discussion in public, except among those considered “religious fanatics” or sufferers of “anxiety attacks”.

But Peter tells us that there is more than good reason to be concerned with the eternal even if invisible implications to human life on earth. He allows us no room to fantasize, and insists that such matters impact us on a far deeper level than even the most stunningly staged block-buster movie could possibly do.

I want to consider two topics arising from our text:

  1. What exactly is “the end of all things”? and
  2. What is to be our conduct in response?

I. What is implied in the phrase: “the end of all things is at hand”?

Several possibilities come to mind:

  • The end of human self-aggrandizement and pride of accomplishment.
  • The end of all utopian hopes and dreams that are based upon some manmade system of improved or perfected governance.
  • The end of time itself, of any further option for the enactment of plans, projects, contingencies, and enterprise.
  • The end of human history.
  • The end of the period of God's grace, to be superseded by judgment and the eternal order.
  • The destruction and annihilation of all institutions erected in opposition to God and without His initiation and involvement.

Implied is a “full stop” to all the activity of man-- not a temporary halt, a break, a vacation, or a hiatus-- a permanent, irrevocable, unconditional end to all activity as it has heretofore operated in this sphere.

Implied as well is the impending judgment of all that men have ever done, large or small, bad or good: i.e. the issuance of a final, absolutely true divine verdict upon every phase of human life, a determination of its worth, quality, and eternal value in divine sight. That will result in the works of humankind either enduring forever in a glorified, improved, and perfected form, or consigned to rejection and banishment... a verdict of worthlessness.

All the activity of earth will cease. There will be no more need for energy-production for nothing will be there to require it. No further planning meetings, initiatives nor projected goals, for there will be no more place for such things to find fruition. No more schedules, travel plans, transportation --either corporate or personal-- because everyone everywhere, living or dead, will be summoned divinely to the same place, for the same purpose, at the same time (we must use that word, having none better to substitute!). Following that assembly, a new order will be instituted which will involve permanent consignment to either life eternal or to separation from God.

II. What is to be our disposition in the here-and-now, knowing that such things are coming to pass, maybe soon?

  1. Be sober, and
  2. watch unto prayer
  3. And above all things, have fervent charity among yourselves.

The NASB puts it: “be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer”.

Word study:

The word “sober” means “to be of sound mind, sane, moderate, to be in one's right man; to curb one's passions and have a moderate estimate of one's self”;

“watch unto..” means to be discreet, calm and collected in spirit, dispassionate.

Implied here is clarity of thought, and thus freedom from unnecessary distraction, one of the terrible scourges of this age. We are not to be wiling away the hours in idleness, entertainment, self-medication of one sort or another, in other words, the same games of never-ending procrastination regarding what's most important in life; practicing and perfecting avoidance; denial; escapism; superficial and casual and disassociated attitudes; joining in the worldwide search for the Mother of all Parties.

Rather, we are to be praying: for ourselves, as we struggle with our own uncertainties and fears regarding these topics; for others among and around us who have no faith, who may have no representation before God other than you and your petitions on their behalf.

“Fervent charity”: “to extend, put forth, stretch forth, without ceasing, earnestly, intently”.

This is so hard for us. We see so little of one another, live so far apart, and experience so little of our actual lives together. Nevertheless we must do our best. This issue of preparedness is emphasized in many places in the NT, even by Jesus Himself. We are to be ready and waiting, and for us, in an age of self indulgence, of instant distraction and multiplied pleasures, of a mind-dulling shared delusion that everything is okay, that someone somewhere will solve all of our problems, this requires great concentration. We must fight to even begin to get into a trim, active, fit, ready spiritual condition. It often takes a severely jarring experience to move us in this direction. Perhaps such motivators are well underway around us now, as we might imagine, listening to the daily news.

In Conclusion:

The Ascension carries with it a sense of initiation into the eternal order, when things will be completely different. As believers, we are not to be caught by surprise or unaware regarding these things. We have been forewarned repeatedly, in Holy Writ. True, none of us has any idea of specific times and seasons, nor any real sense of how all this will happen and what it all looks like, but we are to live in readiness. The Ascended Christ is in preparation for His return, also preparing His throne for the judgment of all flesh, and getting ready to receive His covenant people to Himself. The Ascension takes us to the very last step of the story of our Lord: Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, the birth of the Church at Pentecost, and finally, Christ's Second Coming.

Unless we believe these things ourselves, I mean, really believe them, so much so that our very lives are affected by them, we cannot expect others to do likewise.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Holy Trinity Church, Waterville ME
Ed Kalish, Deacon

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