Saturday, 28 October 2017

Heaven and Earth Will Pass Away

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘The sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven” with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
‘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. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.' (Matthew 24.30-35)
He is always near. Always at the very gates.

Has any period in time ever had such obsession with the End as our own?

Barely a week goes by without someone forecasting the end of the world. Harold Camping's end of the world made a lot of news, before he realised he was wrong. Jehovah's Witnesses on my doorstep have been known to lead with a series of world disasters - hurricanes, earthquakes, bombings - before asking me "what do you think it means?"

And I'll always say - "I reckon it means the world is going to end."

Because it is of course. It is of the very nature of this world that it is going to end. After 4 billion years of evolution, into a myriad of life forms, this world is going to end. The odds are, when the sun expands to swallow it up in 7 billion years - though the increase in solar radiation will cause CO2 levels to fall (ironically) to the point where plants can no longer photosynthesise in a couple of billion years.

Of course, the Universe will continue. For a while.

Eventually, it is reckoned by some, it will reach the point of heat death - where there is no energy difference left, no differentiation of matter - no imbalance of energy levels to create any kind of movement. We're talking 10 to the powers of 10s to the powers of 10s of years. So still time to put the kettle on.

I like to explain all this to the people on my doorstep. But they shuffle and say they've got to go and do some shopping or something.

The reason I go for the full doom option is this. Firstly, it's fun when you're less optimistic about the future than people who specifically want you to be pessimistic about the future. If they've come to tell you the world's going to end, and you get them down - you've won.

But more importantly, it's true. And it gives you a baseline. This is how it is. The best the universe can hope for, under its own steam, is a slow long decline into heat death. No human can or will be able to do anything about it. It's out of our control. All those people that say if we just fix x in the human body, we can achieve immortality - are lying. Even the universe is going to die.

Reassuring isn't it? You can go with the flow, frankly. You're not going to make a major difference to any of this.

But Jesus makes this amazing promise. The angels with trumpets, the gathering of souls, the coming on clouds - in one sense they're all myth. They're picture-stories. But they're pictures of a truth that is very real.

Beyond the world we can see there is an unseen world. Beyond the compromised truths we can understand - using science, theology, anything that we can throw at our problems - there is a real truth. Beyond the limitations of our lifespans and the finiteness even of our universe, there is an eternal world.

This world is hard, life is short and too many people are too brutal. The solutions to this world are complex, slow or even non-existent. And we all die. Yet we all see glimpses of the eternal in a moment of beauty, the laugh of a child, the holding-hands of two lovers, someone giving freely to someone in need. We know it is there. Jesus knows tall this - he lived through this place.

But in that eternal world, death is no more. Sickness has no place. The nations are healed and all those that recognise the source of all life, will receive that life forever. There are times when heaven comes near and kisses this world - when an innocent child is born in a stable in Bethlehem. When he rises in triumph from the death that could never hold him. But a time is coming when the world we see will be consumed in the world we long for, love, touch fleetingly and yet have never seen. When all the temporary things to which we cling are burnt up like a theatre curtain and we realise that we have a whole new reality to step into.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus's words will never pass away. His love for us is engraved on his hands. He will never let us go.

He is always near. Always at the very gates.

Best get ready. It could be soon.

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A queue of people at the vicarage door, holding letters. The vicar is hiding behind the curtains.
Writes of the Church - On sale now and perfect for Christmas

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