A few weeks ago, I got a tip that the end of the world was nigh. Usually I don’t pay much attention to them. But these were different. These warnings were a series of post it notes put on different doors of the parish complex over 4 different days. Someone went to some trouble to make sure I got the message. <<Read the notes>>
• The Second Coming of Jesus Christ is soon. Repent for these are the last days.
• These are the last days. Jesus is coming back soon.
So, obviously, I was not getting the message out quickly enough, because the next note was written on a RED post-it:
• The World is ending and the AntiChrist is about to rise! Jesus is the only way!
And the last one:
• Fr. Bill, (yikes) you must warn your congregation NOW! If you do not, you will have blood on your hands. So, you have been warned…
It is tempting to brush these notes off, to not take their message seriously. Yet, in today’s gospel, Jesus seems to think that we need just such a reminder. Our scriptures for this weekend use a type of literature we refer to as apocalyptic. Strange symbols and language, which have as their goal, in part to remind us that things end. There will be an end to our ability to work; our friendships. An end to the nation as we know it; the church as we know it. There will be an end to our very lives, and to the lives of those we love.
When Jesus tells us that we do not know the day nor hour this will happen for us, he doesn’t say that to frighten us. He does so to focus our awareness again on what we say we value. Sometimes we get so caught up in things that mean very little in light of the shortness of life, that we forget what really matters to us. Remembering that we don’t know when our world will end asks us if we are living now what we say is important to us.
Case in point: One morning, years ago, Alfred Nobel, the man who invented dynamite, sat down to have a cup of coffee, opened his newspaper and, to his surprise, read his own obituary. A reporter had mistakenly reported Alfred’s death in place of his brother’s. As you could imagine, Alfred was shocked. But it gave him the fascinating opportunity to read what was written about him and how he would be remembered. His obituary described him accurately as the “dynamite king” who had spent his life making instruments of death and destruction.
This was not the legacy that Alfred Nobel wanted to leave the world. That morning Alfred Nobel resolved to change his life. Not only did he resolve to do so, he actually did. He changed the direction of his life in such ways that – later, in his name – annual prizes would be awarded in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. He went from being the “dynamite king” to the one for whom the “Nobel Peace Prize” was named.
Such is the gift of facing the reality of our own death. Facing the reality of our deaths provides a chance to choose again what really matters. There are some here who need no reminder; some who have faced death too recently – or who narrowly escaped it – and for whom the reality of the shortness of life is altogether too much in their faces. Yet, even when we are aware, there is a part of each of us that tends to go back so quickly to ‘business as usual’.
Alfred Nobel got to see what would have been written about him had he been the one who died. What do you think would be written about you if you died? Better yet, what would you LIKE to be written?
If you or I had the opportunity to write an article about ourselves to be published after we died, what would we want to say about ourselves? What would we want to be noted for? If I want my legacy to be that I was a person who cared for others, a person of prayer, or someone who loved my family, I do well to examine whether or not I am living those values now. We DO NOT KNOW when the hour will come.
And so are there: Any words of kindness to speak? Now is the time!
Any risk to be taken; forgiveness to be sought? Now is the time!
Any friend or relative to call or visit? Now is the time!
Any prayer to be prayed or virtue to be embraced? Now is the time!
Any act of service you have been putting off? Now is the time.
For each of us, the end of our days will come. My friend who left these notes on the doors of the church reminded me of that. Jesus tells us clearly today that we do not know WHEN that will happen. But happen it will. I keep these notes on the door frame of my room, a daily reminder that the end is indeed coming. I invite you to put your own ‘post it note’ which will remind you – perhaps just with the words: “Alfred Nobel” on it, and leave it on the door frame to your room. And every time you see it let it remind you of the urgency of these hours. Are you now those values that last?