We are approaching the end of the Church’s year and the beginning of the next one on the first Sunday of Advent: November 29 this year. Next Sunday’s gospel is taken from the Gospel of John, so today we get the final passage from the Year B Gospel, Mark, and on the 29th we will hear a passage from the Year C Gospel, Luke. Interestingly, the two readings are parallel passages, quoting Jesus’ words about the end times. Today we have arrived at the threshold of the account of Jesus’ passion, which will be the focus of the last days of Lent, so at this point, our readings for Ordinary Time are completed. When Advent begins, we are invited to consider that there are three comings of Jesus: his Incarnation coming to fruition in his birth at Christmas, his coming to believers by grace in scripture and the sacraments, and his return in glory at the end of time. So Advent begins with a look at the end times.
Today’s first reading — Daniel 12:1-3 — was written at the time the Jewish people were being persecuted by the successors of Alexander the Great, and it encourages them to stand firm in their adherence to God. It tells of the end times, which will be the end of the persecutions. The archangel Michael will protect them. God has a book with the names of those who are loyal to him, and they will be saved. Then we come to what is most important for us: a promise of resurrection. While it is not clear that there will be a universal resurrection, there will be a resurrection, and the condition of those who are resurrected will depend on their conduct, with great glory, especially for the wise and those who lead others to righteous lives.
We reflect on God’s promise of life in verses from Psalm 15 (1, 5, 8-11).
The second reading — Hebrews 10:11-14, 18 — continues telling us about Jesus, our high priest. While other priests live in time and offer sacrifices repeatedly, Jesus’ priesthood differs from theirs in two ways. His sacrifice actually takes away sins, and he is eternal, forever at God the Father’s right hand, not limited by time. Therefore his sacrifice has eternal value, and only needs to be offered once — although that offering is, like the priest, eternal.
The gospel reading is Mark 13:24-32. Jesus has been speaking of a time of tribulation which includes elements of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But the frame now expands to a cosmic scale, with the elements of the universe destroyed. God’s people will all be gathered to him — implying the resurrection we heard of from Daniel. Jesus’ words are eternal because, as Hebrews tells us he is eternal.
While we don’t like to think about the end of the world as we know it — God created it and saw that it is very good — the message today is one of encouragement. We know that there are troubles: natural disasters, diseases, persecutions, all sorts of wrongdoing, deaths of loved ones and eventually our own. But God reassures us that these evils are not forever. Jesus will return; he will set things right; he will give us eternal life with himself. So today’s scriptures give us hope.
There was a time when images of the end of the world were used, like images of hell, to frighten people into good behavior, but that was not the concept of those who wrote the scriptures. Their hearers didn’t need to be frightened by threats of potential future sufferings, they needed the reassurance that the evils they were already suffering were not the last word. God gave that reassurance to them, and today he gives that reassurance to us in the sacrifice of Calvary and the resurrection of Jesus as the promise of our own resurrection.