Probably the most agonizing promise in the whole of Scripture is Jesus’ foretold return, as John the Revelator proclaimed in His voice: “Sure, I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20b). It is with this phrase, followed by a final doxology, that John concludes his Revelation, and since the fourth century, the whole narrative of Scripture for the Christian Church. But unlike early Christians, Christians two millennia on know that it will probably be a while yet before the Second Coming actually comes.
And more to the point: we don’t know when it is coming: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 42:36).
Jesus left us an important instruction regarding the end times: keep awake.
“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Matthew 24:42-44).
So we have to act like the end is coming just around the corner, even if we know it may not be for a bit.
Does that attitude sound familiar?
Many of us can appreciate the agony of patiently and fervently waiting for something that is still a ways away: the almost mythic-sounding easing of lockdowns, wide-spread vaccinations, and opportunities to interact with others face to face.
The agony of the past year is akin to the agony Christians have experienced for two millenia. We, like in lockdown, must wait, and more importantly prepare for when this world is over and we face the merciful judgement of God.
Here’s the key to doing well at the last judgement: make sure you have kept awake. We may be waiting for the end times, as may be God, but we aren’t supposed to be sitting at a table with anxiety for thousands of years. The Christian call to wait is also a call to action.
“Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:20-21).
God is already at work among us! Like the labourers in the field, there’s plenty for us to do. But Matthew provides us with a final warning-parable we ought to take note of before picking up our shovels. In the parable, Jesus tells the story of a landowner who hires labourers for his field throughout the day, yet pays each the same daily wage. The workers, however,
“grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:11b-16).
There’s so much to do that there’s a place for everyone in God’s kingdom. God values all the varying contributions from different folks according to different abilities and varieties of gifts.
And pray tell: what does that kingdom look like? Right now, even during lockdown, how do we prepare for both the world beyond Covid-19, and more importantly, the world beyond this life?
I think Mary said it best:
“His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:50-53)
Let’s get busy.
For, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Thanks for reading this update on my missionary blog! I’m a missionary of The Episcopal Church, serving in Liverpool, UK. Make sure to subscribe at the bottom of the home page to get an email when I next post an update. God bless, and thank you!
Eager to read more? Check out the “Meet the YASCers” page of the website of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) of the Episcopal Church to find the blogs of my missionary colleagues: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/YASC/meet-yascers.