On this, the final Sunday in our summer sermon series “8 Question from the Pews,” we end with a rather appropriate question… or rather an appropriate request “Talk about what ‘the end’ means.”
To do this we’ll:
1. Consider two meanings of the word
2. And look at what today’s gospel readings from the Gospel of Mark look like in light of those two meanings of the word
Let us pray.
When we talk about it theologically, we often think about the book of Revelation, Millenialism of various sorts, the Late Great Planet Earth, and the Left Behind Series.
What all these things have in common is an assumption that the definition of “The End” we’re using is “The conclusion” or “Termination.” “Ceasing.” “Stopping.” A period or exclamation mark, as opposed to a comma or semi-colon.
And this is probably what the questioner meant.
They’re likely wondering what it’ll all be like when the earth ceases to exist, or this particular epoch, this particular time period, stops.
Yet, I would suggest another one of the 7 definitions of “End” is worth considering when we look at scripture—the end defined as “Goal.” The end of something is its direction, where it is going.
By way of example, our Episcopal brothers and sisters confess: “The Chief End of Man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
So, instead of “The End” being a period, or point ending a line, it’s an arrow pointing toward a goal.
Let’s consider Mark’s Gospel in light of these two meanings.
A more literal reading of Mark’s Gospel points us toward the first definition of Endà “The Passing away of heaven and earth,” the evaporation of the world.
In this reading Jesus is warning us that at some unknown time there will be a period of cosmic darkness, and the Son of Man—this figure from the book of Daniel, will arrive and we ought to look for signs and keep awake so we know when it happens and are not caught unaware.
Some read this as pointing toward the destruction of the temple, or more commonly, as pointing toward the destruction of the world. In this case, they say, Jesus is telling us to look around and read everything as a sign, to be anxious for the coming cosmic thunderclap that will end it all.
But let’s consider option B—the End as an arrow pointing toward a goal.
To do this we can look more particularly at a pattern in Mark’s Gospel—his dealing with fig trees.
Yes, Fig trees, it might seem a weird place to go into order to talk about the end—with a plant… but Jesus himself describes the coming of The Son of Man as being announced like a fig tree announces summer.
So, let’s consider the Fig Tree.
Jesus enters Jerusalem the first time, his humble act of riding a donkey, which proclaims the kind of Kingdom we are called to, is met with leaves galore—it at first seems that there is a fruitful acceptance of the Kingdom of God.
But, at the gates of Jerusalem, just outside the city limits, back in Bethany, Jesus sees the truth, writ large on that small Fig Tree, there are leaves but no fruit, and so he curses it. As in Jerusalem, so too the fig tree, both unfruitful.
Then he again passes the threshold between Bethany and Jerusalem and enters to see the Temple, and attacks it, turning tables expelling sellers, and mightily kicking out moneychangers.
And again he returns to Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem, he sees this fig tree again, this time withered.
Then, a third time, Jesus, in Jerusalem, declares that there will be a time of darkness in which the Son of Man will be reveled, he will be at the very gate of Jerusalem—at the threshold and his presence will be announced like a fig tree announces summer.
Then Jesus encourages us to stay awake for the Son of Man, for he might show up at:
or at dawn.
Again, lots of people see this as Jesus explaining what it will be like when the earth ceases to exist… but, what if this is a goal he is describing? What if it describes his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and is telling us where we might find our Master?
After all, on two previous occasions the events in Jerusalem paralleled the sign of the Fig Tree.
The Son of Man is coming Jesus tells the high Priest—and then Jesus adds that, he, Jesus, is the Son of Man.
We must keep alert, stay awake, to see him—look at the Disciples at Gethsemane, who fail to do so.
That evening, the Last Supper, they meet the Son of Man in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine.
At midnight those in power are judged by the Son of Man, even as they put him on trial.
When the cock crows, Peter makes a fateful choice and denies the Son of Man.
At dawn, the women meet the resurrected Lord.
What if the point of talking about the end is not some deathwatch for the world, or a waiting for everything to be over… what if instead the end is a goal, to stay awake that we might experience again the saving story of Jesus Christ’s Life, Death, and Resurrection…
that we might trust in his resurrection,
recognize when we deny our Lord,
eschew the powers of this world that judge falsely,
meet our Lord in the Holy Meal of Communion,
be awake in prayer,
and confess to all that Jesus is our Lord.