Do you know the word “apocalyptic?” Since I was a boy, growing up in a Pentecostal church in the South, I’ve heard gospel songs, sermons, and even watched religious movies, about the “end of time.” And that is what “apocalyptic” means – having to do with the end of time.
It seems each generation through history has speculated in one way or another with the “end of time.” And it doesn’t require a “religious” focus, though that has been the historical source for most apocalyptic fervor. In our day there is a secular and scientific preoccupation with the “end of time,” and I’ve watched these apocalyptic warnings throughout my life. Warnings about overpopulation, pollution, climate change, nuclear war, communist revolution, incurable disease, and so on. And each warning was strident and required immediate remedy if we were to “save” ourselves from this or that impending disaster.
Now, as one person with the limited perspective of one person, I simply don’t have the vision to say whether any of this is an over reaction or not. We live in a world full of real and imagined dangers. My only point is our human species seems very much interested in that one day or era when our world ends. And I find that merely an extension of our own struggles with our personal “apocalyptic” end – our own mortality.
In today’s Gospel Lesson, the Lord uses strong apocalyptic language in teaching His disciples about events to come. He uses the poetic language of sun and moon and stars and the four winds. It’s dramatic and it’s soul stirring. And the interpretation of these words have excited the imagination of Bible readers for centuries. But He says one thing I want to focus on. In Mark 13:28 the Lord teaches this “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.” The Lord pulls out an illustration from the recurring seasons and gives this powerful insight to His disciples. When you see the evidence of Spring beginning to blossom, you know Spring is near. So, when you see all this turmoil in your world know the End is approaching as well. Simple, but profound, insight.
And, the main lesson here isn’t some attempt to satisfy our curiosity about when the End is coming, but the deeper and more helpful lesson that those who pay attention and keep their focus on that which is most important WILL NOT be surprised! They will expect and prepare themselves.
But this preparation doesn’t just mean preparation for the “end of time.” No, a wise believer understands that, as our Epistle Lesson in 2 Peter 3:8-9 says, “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The ultimate End of Time and the Final Judgement is not the only “end” we need to prepare for. Preparing for our own “end” is the only way to be adequately prepared for THE end.
That’s why the fathers consistently teach that we are to remember constantly our own mortality and, without despair, take up the spiritual tools of faith to face our own “end” well and pray constantly for a “Christian end to our lives, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and for a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, let us ask the Lord.”
Today, embrace the lesson of the Lord concerning the fig tree and the seasons of life. See yourself, honestly, without fear and without dread. The clock continues to tick and with each passing moment, day, week, month, year, you are constantly being invited by wisdom to give your best focus, energy, and effort, to preparing and not being caught by surprise by your own “end,” your personal “apocalypse.” As we approach another preparation Sunday for Great Lent, don’t be distracted by the whole world and miss your own opportunity to prepare for your own “end of the world.”