1 John 3:13-18
From the time I was five years old, morning class in my public school began exactly the same way for many years: first, the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and then, certain, set prayers, one of which included the words, "Thy Kingdom come." Because we said them every day, these words seemed bland, innocuous, even meaningless. But if a first-century Jew had been visiting us on any of those hundreds and hundreds of mornings (and I am sure we would have wondered why he had come to school still wearing his bathrobe and pajamas!), he would have wondered at the strange juxtaposition of two very unlike things: innocent school children reciting rote prayers in a sing-song tone, on the one hand, and the meaning of their words, on the other. For these three words, "Thy Kingdom come," signified to him the most extreme and awful events imaginable: apocalyptic, global upheaval, even the end of the world! It was as if he had seen a terrible and awesome lion mistakenly being treated as an ordinary house cat, paying no regard to the mighty power and inevitable outcome of this naive folly.
I cannot tell you when and where our sense of Apocalyptic slipped away in the routine practice of Christian religion. But I can say that first-century Palestine would have regarded the "Coming of the Kingdom" and "the Day of the Lord" as a thing to be dreaded — when the sky would darken and the earth would shake and a great reckoning would be required. As we read in the Prophet Joel 2:31 and Acts 2:20, "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible Day of the LORD come." It was not something that anyone could pencil in on his calendar and certainly nothing that anyone wanted to see.
The tumult and violence associated with the Day of the Lord does not have to do with God being violent, goodness knows! It has to do with the woeful disjunction between Heaven and earth — the world-fracturing collision of absolute holiness meeting with boasting unholiness, of absolute purity meeting with gritty and insolent impurity, of absolute goodness meeting with incorrigible evil. It is never God who decides the violent quality of this collision, for He is changeless, and He has given us His book of life and wisdom enabling us to be harmonious with Heaven. No, the cause for this violence is ourselves, is in ourselves. In that sense, the Day of the Lord is about God's witness concerning the quality of our own lives in perfect clarity and truth. But these are not themes unrepentant humankind has ever wanted to hear. Consequently, the Day of the Lord has always been depicted in terms of God's judgment on earth. We can only imagine, therefore, the wonder with which Saint John's first readers beheld the final three words of his Book of Revelation: "Come, Lord Jesus!"
It is not as if the Day of the Lord, were suspended, or could be. Indeed, the Lord Jesus Himself describes the end of human lifeworlds vividly throughout the Gospels. As we read only this past Friday in our Office lectionary,
And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, ...
"For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will .... surround you,
and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children
within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you
did not know the time of your visitation." (Lk 19:41-44)
Christian life, consequently, has always been one of holy expectation, living on the edge of a feather, looking to the skies for the arrival of all of our hopes and dreams. Come, Lord Jesus! Saint John reminds us this morning, therefore, to live in the moment of this wonderful expectation. Your grandfather told you, "Life is too short for fussing and feuding," and we may depend upon it: Saint John would agree. Love the Lord "as He loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God."
Yes, our world will end all too soon. Ask anyone who has reached the completion of life's journey. And, yes, those who cling to the world's substance and goods, — one stone built upon another — will grieve. But, as Jesus told all who would follow Him, let go of worldly things. Pay attention rather to the Kingdom of Heaven drawing near to the earth. It is, after all, the time of your life.
Do you know what timezone Heaven is in? It is called Now. The world lives in the past, hanging on to old bitternesses, gnawing on perceived injustices, reliving old failures and shames. But the Kingdom of Heaven, eternal Heaven, is an endless now. And in that now, letting go of all past injuries and injustices, in that now of pardon and forgiveness, love goes forward with new tenderness and purity, one soul beholding another in all the freedom and endless possibility of now. This is the essence of Heaven. As we read in our Epistle lesson this morning, "He who does not love remains in death," which is the essence of the world.
"The time has come, and now is,"
we are called to His Supper.
He has planned this feast from the foundations of the world,
and the time of life is now.
Be free of all worldly cares!
Let go of all your possessions!
Be done with the world's claims on you!
For all is now ready!"
Let us don our banquet garments and draw close to the Lord our God.
He has chosen us and invited us and called us.
He humbles Himself
to be really and truly present here in this unworthy place.
He has opened the Gates of Heaven.
He will offer Himself for us.
you will receive the Cup of Salvation.
Call upon His Name,
know that the Lord, He is good,
and His mercy endureth forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Amen.