NOVEMBER 23, 2011: FEAST OF SAINT COLUMBA:  LUKE 21:12-19

 

I MYSELF WILL GIVE YOU words and A WISDOM that none of your foes can resist. (Luke 21:15). Jesus with this assurance sought to encourage his disciples while warning them against heavy trials to come upon them. We find ourselves in the final days of this liturgical year today. In their distinctive and quite different ways, both readings we have just heard are well chosen for this occasion, in that nothing is better suited to the end of the Church year than reminders that there is to be a time of troubles followed by a most solemn judgment at the end of the world. That there will certainly be a definitive end of the world as we know it was a wide and firmly held belief in the Jewish world of Jesus’ time. Not for the first time, however, in our own age a number of physicists have devised the multi-world theory that asserts that when our present cosmos arrives at its term, it will give rise to a successor in a never ending series. Actually this theory is an echo of the long-held Hindu belief that the end of one age of time is followed by another long cycle in an endless cycle.

 

The inspired Hebrew authors were of a very different opinion. Just as this created world had a beginning, so will it come to a definite end in time, to be followed by the kingdom of God.  Already at the time of the Babylonian exile prophetic writings include  predictions and insights that gradually evolved into the more elaborate descriptions in the book of Daniel that refer to a striking revealing or unveiling of God’s new intervention in his dealings with the world. He states the matter in these terms: “And sovereignty and power and greatness of all the kings under heaven are given to the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and all rulers will serve him and be subject to Him.” (7:27) This view of the definitive, eternal reign of God is the answer of the Hebrew faith that prevailed at the time our Lord initiated the New Covenant that completes and fills out in detail the prophetic vision of the Old Testament.  

 

The word for unveiling in the Hebrew, gala in the Greek Septuagint is apocalypsis that gave rise to the English term Apocalypse.  Early Christians took over this tradition and were keenly sensitive to its central concept that maintains there is to be a final time that will initiate a New Age. This term Apocalypse was employed as the title of the last book of the New Testament. It culminates with a vision of the New City of God that descends from heaven and is characterized as consisting in an intimate union with God. John, the author, employs solemn and memorable language as he describes the transition that is to take place at the end of days:

 

And I saw a New Heaven and a New Earth. The first heaven and the first earth departed; the sea also is no longer. Then I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem coming down from heaven from God, adorned like a bride for her husband. I then heard a powerful voice from the throne that announced: “See, the tabernacle of God is with men and he will dwell with them”. (Apoc. 21:1-3)

 

A generation earlier, Saint Paul had already written that “if anyone is in Christ he is new creature, the old matters have passed away” (2 Cor 5:17) In a certain way to the eyes of faith, the new world has already begun and those who put their faith and trust in the Lord belong to that heavenly city even now. “We have been saved in hope” (Rom 8:24). His point is that salvation is in a manner already realized. He follows up this assertion with a reminder meant to give us confidence, knowing as we do how vulnerable and frail we are. “Likewise, the Spirit helps our weakness…, the Spirit prays for us with ineffable groanings.” God is for us, who then can harm us, if only we place our trust in Him. 

 

Not many days ago the Gospel reminded us that Jesus in his preaching stressed the uncertainty of the final time when the world as we now know it will meet its end. When his apostles asked him when to expect the final events of the end-time, he insisted in the clearest terms that he day must remain unknown, hidden as it is in the eternal mind of the Father. The moral lesson he inferred from this state of affairs he summed up in a lapidary warning: “Watch, be ready.” In today's Gospel he provides us with further assurance as he strengthens his disciples with a firm promise that is an encouragement for our hope as we hear him say:  I MYSELF WILL GIVE YOU words and A WISDOM that none of your foes can resist.  (Luke 21:15). As we offer this Eucharist this evening then, with confident faith in God’s loving mercy we turn to him with alert readiness asking for the courage that communion with Jesus will prepare us to welcome him when he comes to introduce us into the presence of the Father.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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