Reading Ramblings – November 22, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Last Sunday of the Church Year – Christ the King Sunday – November 22, 2015

Texts: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Jude 20-25; Mark 13:24-37

Context: Christ the King Sunday was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. At that time it was celebrated on the last Sunday of October, but in 1970 the date was moved to the end of the Church year. It is celebrated on an equal footing (liturgically) with every other high holiday (solemnity) of the Church year, including Christmas and Easter. Pope Pius instituted this holiday as a move against the rising tide of secularism, something to which the Church is not immune. As such, it fixes our eyes not only on our Lord’s return, but also on the reality of his kingship here and now – at least in the hearts of his faithful. It should be easily noted that such a refocusing of our attention on the Lordship of Christ is more necessary now than it was 90 years ago.

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 – While the first six chapters of Daniel have plenty of prophetic material in them, that material is presented within a narrative context. As of chapter 7, that changes, and the emphasis becomes a series of visions that Daniel receives concerning the end times. As such, Daniel has always held a fascination for those committed to interpreting the prophetic imagery soas to discern when the end times and the return of Christ will be. Given that Jesus himself says that such predictions are impossible, it would be best not to obsess over these details.

This section of Daniel describes his vision of the throne of God the Father, and his vision of God the Son, utilizing the description son of man which becomes Jesus’ way of referring to himself. While much scholarly (and un-scholarly!) debate rages over the best ways to interpret Daniel as a whole, these few verses give a glorious description of the power and majesty of God the Father and Son, affirming the complete dominion which God the Son receives from God the Father.

Psalm 93 – This psalm praises the authority of God. This authority is girded with strength in verse 1, so that there can be no doubt of this authority ever passing away, ever being taken from him. So vast is his power and authority that the most powerful and untamed force – that of the seas – is enlisted to demonstrate his authority. No matter how the sea thunders and shakes and no man can still it, still greater is God’s might.

But our joy is not merely in our God’s strength. Such is the Lord’s power and might that we can trust his laws and decrees to be good and right and perfect for all time. Holiness is God’s nature, not something arbitrary that He creates and defines for us. Holiness is in accord with the identity of God.

Jude 20-25 – The book of Jude has been a fascination and curiosity to the faithful and scholars probably since it was written. Jude makes mention of The Assumption of Moses – a non-canonical writing – in verse 9. Later in verse 14 some think he is referencing the Book of Enoch, another non-canonical writing of uncertain origin and date. Jude was a half-brother of Jesus.

These verses culminate in a liturgical expression of praise (doxology) in the last two verses. This praise is directed to the three-fold nature of God. The one who is able to keep us from stumbling and present us blameless is God the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us. This Holy Spirit of God provides us the strength to resist temptation and avoid sin (stumbling). This does not mean that the Christian never sins, but that the Christian should take seriously that they can and should resist it – a theme prevalent in this short letter. And when we stand before God, it will be this same Holy Spirit that presents us spotless before God the Father, based on the perfect sacrifice and atonement of God the Son, Jesus.

Verse 25 goes on to praise God the Father and God the Son, Jesus, attributing to all three persons of the trinity glory, majesty, dominion and authority that pre-exists time itself and extends into all creation. Jude is acknowledging and describing the reality of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – a reality that pre-exists creation and time itself, and extends into eternity. Truly, these are qualities – along with the mercy and faithfulness of God – that can and should lead us to earnest praise of his authority now and always!

Mark 13:24-37 – Jesus transitions here. Up until this point He has mostly been speaking about events leading up to the destruction of the Temple (and by extension, Jerusalem) – an event which occurred in 70 AD. Now Jesus turns his eyes beyond that event and towards the coming end of time, his return after his ascension.

Jesus points to signs in the heavens – a darkened sun and a darkened moon, with stars falling and heavenly powers shaken. It will be after these monumental and cataclysmic events that we should look for our Lord’s return. When He does return, He will gather his faithful to himself forever.

This may sound like rather uncertain language, but Jesus indicates in vs.28-31 that these signs are reliable enough that we should be able to read and interpret them as we do the changing seasons and the new growth of trees. Jesus’ earlier predictions of the Temple’s destruction were accurate enough that the historian Eusebius reported that the Christian community in Jerusalem was able to escape the destruction of the Roman siege by leaving beforehand and fleeing across the river to the city of Pella. We should expect the signs to be equally obvious to us, should they occur during our lifetime.

However we won’t be able to predict beforehand when this is going to happen. We might be able to predict some of the warning signs – eclipses or other means by which the sun and moon are darkened and the stars fall from the sky. The key is not to predict our Lord’s return, because this is impossible. Rather the key is to remain ready and watchful. We are to be about our Father’s business, as it were, the business of loving God and loving our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). In so doing, we will be ready, whether it comes today or next year or whether it happens centuries after our death.

This is the trust we are to have in our Lord. Jesus is King. All dominion is his already and one day that dominion will be made obvious to everyone. We are to live our lives secure in this knowledge. While terrible things can and will and do happen around us and even to us, these are not signs that God has forsaken us, or that Christ is not indeed king. Rather, these are all signs pointing towards his return. Our duty is to stay awake, to remember who we are and whose we are, and to live our lives in accordance with this reality.

We must live our lives, to be sure. We don’t run off to live as hermits or gather on hilltops to wait our Lord’s return. We live out our lives where He has placed us, fulfilling our vocations as neighbors, citizens, spouses, children, siblings. It is in these vocations that we are to remain awake, and it is through these vocations that we continue to bear witness to the return of our Lord. As Martin Luther once said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

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