24 ‘But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’
There’s an old story passed down from pastor to pastor. When New England was a colony, there was a solar eclipse while the state legislature was in session. All was dark suddenly and without warning, and people panicked. Several of the legislators moved to adjourn the meeting thinking the end of the world was at hand, and Christ himself had come. But one of the men stood up and said, “Mr. Speaker, if it is not the end of the world and we adjourn, we shall appear to be fools. If it is the end of the world, I should choose to be found doing my duty. I move you, sir, that candles be brought.”
We should choose to be found doing our duty. That’s the idea. No one knows the day or the hour when Christ will return. According to Jesus himself in verse 32, not even he knows! Predicting the “end times” is not a concern of Jesus and therefore shouldn’t concern his disciples. Instead, we are to be concerned with faithfulness, with carrying on business as usual, and doing our duty as followers of Christ. It’s not our job to tell the future. It’s our job to mind the present.
And speaking of the present, here’s how we got here, to Wednesday of Holy Week. Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to shouts of “Hosanna!”, which means “Save us!” Monday through Thursday, you could find him teaching and preaching in the Temple, and if you timed it just right, you’d see him turning over the tables of the money changers. In the evenings, he went to the Mount of Olives just to the east of Jerusalem, about a mile-long walk, to pray and have some time alone. That’s where we find him here, huddled with Peter, James, John, and Andrew (the original four disciples), conducting a teachable moment about the end of the world.
Earlier in the chapter, Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple, which happened forty years later in 70 AD, and warned of the many false signs and prophets that would tempt the disciples into thinking the end has come, when in fact it’s far off. It may look like the end of the world, and it may feel like the end of the world, but it’s not. Like the first buds on a tree in the spring, pointing to a summer you can’t see yet, when the end has come, you’ll know.
So how are we to interpret this strange sermon? We’re left with two choices. First, Jesus is talking about the literal end of the world. If that’s true, then this is good news for all who are oppressed and down-trodden, the least of these. There are many people who read the verse about stars falling from heaven as the best news they’ve ever heard, because one day the system that kept the stars in heaven and them in unemployment will be broken, and finally things will be fair. Until that day, we are to keep watch and be faithful, clinging to the hope that one day, all will be made right.
Or you could read this passage as a metaphor. Maybe you’ve heard the song from the rock band R.E.M. called “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”. Maybe Holy Week finds you at end of the world as you know it. The familiar is gone. It’s a strange new world. It’s a season of death and rebirth.
We go through many “end times” in the long journey of life. We go through many deaths. But we also go through many resurrections, so please hear this: if it’s the end of the world for you, if the life you knew is over and you have to make sense of the fact that you’re still breathing, remember, the end of one world means the beginning of another. Death can feel uncomfortably like rebirth. So keep awake, because the hour of your resurrection is at hand.
Find a pen and paper, or anything to write on. Make a list of three things you’re grieving right now. You could be grieving a loved one, a paycheck, a way of life, a sense of normal. Then, write down one thing you’re discovering about life on the other side of loss.
God of resurrection, you make beautiful things out of dust. You are not done with me yet. There are no beginnings and ends with you- there’s only one long river of life. Help me to see life on the other side of the river bend, just out of sight. Help me to see the empty tomb. In the name of the Risen Christ, I pray. Amen.