An Alternate Ending
When DVD's replaced video tapes, alternate endings became a feature on some discs. Is there an alternate ending to the end times?
First I have to convince you that there is an end and that it is near. I use to think it was only my generation brought up on evolutionary thinking that presumed time would just go on and on. Remember that one hit wonder "In the Year 2525?" The song projects man living till 9595 and pauses to reflect that by 7510 if God is coming "He oughta make it by then." As I said, I used to think it was in my generation that the pride of life knew no end, but then I found out that the 1939 New York World's Fair had the Westinghouse Time Capsule not to be opened till 6939 (American Rose, 4). And Oglethorpe University in Atlanta sealed the Crypt of Civilization in 1940, not to be opened till 8113 (www.oglethorpe.edu/about_us/crypt_of_civilization/)
It's true; the end of all things might not be near. Jesus makes a distinction between the end and our end. False Christs deceiving many, wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes in various places, and famines aren't the end of the world says Jesus. He says, "The end is still to come." These are birth pangs, not the birth. They indicate the end is coming but they aren't the end.
So I suppose New York might get to open their time capsule in 6939 and Atlanta its crypt 8113. The end might be that far away, but your end certainly isn't. Jesus makes a distinction between the end and our end as individuals. In the last lines of our text Jesus says, "He who stands firm to the end will be saved." There is no "the" before end here as there was when Jesus said, "The end is still to come." In the last lines, Jesus is not referring to the end of all things but to an individual's end (Ylvisaker, 609).
The knowledge that our end is near is something we constantly push back in our thoughts. Without God's grace we are no different than the rich fool. He concluded that since he had a lot to live on he had a lot of time to live. We conclude that since this world could have a long time to go we do too. Only the Lord can deliver us from this. So With Moses we pray, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." And with David we pray, "Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before You. Each man's life is but a breath."
So there is an end for us. What do we have in the end to face our end? In the end, even in our end, it's the "doom of the gods." That comes from Norse mythology. Ragnarok is the end of the cosmos when even the gods find their end (Chesterton, XX, 607). Even before the end, at our individual end, all false gods, all lesser gods, all man-made gods meet their end.
You can see this in our text. Man-made things are of no help in the end. Do you hear how Jesus so carefully and clearly crushes his disciples pride and hope in what men have made? "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!" The disciples cry out like school children. Jesus replies, "Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." At your end no massive hospital, no magnificent medicine, no great technology will keep you alive.
Not only are the man-made things of no help, neither are men in your end. Jesus refers to local councils and synagogues. These were the institutional church of the first century. Jesus refers to governors and kings. These were the government of the first century. Jesus says that the institutional church and the official state will only make your end worse. Or do you think we should limit Jesus' words to His disciples? We see that the disciples in Acts suffered at the hands of the church and state. But I hesitate to limit them because this is the path that Jesus also went down, and as goes the Shepherd so go us sheep.
Besides even if we do limit these words of warning about church and state making our end more difficult, what do we do about the last paragraph? It's not just the things made by man or their institutional structures that make our end difficult. Jesus says even family will. "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death." In the end, in our end, the things we deify in life are shown not only to be helpless but harmful.
So you know what end I see for me? Not a pretty one. I don't see myself standing firm when all that is made by man is shaking. I don't see myself standing firm when all men will hate me because of Jesus. I don't see myself standing firm while church, state, and family conspire against me for Jesus' sake. The ending I see is not being saved. Tell me; is there an alternate ending? Yes, there is.
There is One who has met our end so we might have an alternate ending. There is One, and only one, who lived as we ought and died the way we should. Jesus went to His end on the very same path He predicts for His disciples. He was betrayed by one from His family of disciples; He was rejected by church leaders; He stood before Governor Pilate and King Herod. And He suffered one thing He doesn't predict for us: God Himself rejected Him.
The One who owned Him as His beloved Son, as the Son in whom He was well pleased, after a perfect life rejected Him in the end. At the height of His suffering, when Jesus is in the depths of hell on the cross, God turns a deaf ear and a blind eye. Can you imagine that? No we can't, but see the other side of the picture. In rejecting His perfect Son, God the Father was claiming the sinners Jesus was taking the place of. When God made His perfect Son to be sin, He did so that He might see us as righteous in Jesus.
Good Friday was judgment day for our sins. There the suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying to pay for sins came to an end. Isn't that what Jesus said? "It is finished." It's actually the same word for "end" that's in our text. We could translate Jesus crying from the cross, "It has forever ended." Not His life because we know He rose again on the third day. What was ended was payment for our sins.
All people everywhere are to face their end or the end wrapped in the perfect righteousness Jesus won for all fallen humanity. Why do you think Jesus sent the apostles out too all nations preaching repentance and forgiveness? Because Jesus won forgiveness for every single sinner and sin that's why. Why do you think Baptism is for all nations? Because in the end there is not one person Jesus does not want clothed with His holiness.
The end, or our end, is scary. The preaching of the Law makes it that way and rightly so. We don't want to think we can face our end in our own strength. But Jesus' ultimate goal is not to make us afraid of our dying or of His coming. Not even loving sinful parents have as a goal to leave their children in fear. How do parents take the fear out of something? By going with their kids through it and by going over and over it. So our Lord Jesus prepares us for an alternate ending where we do stand firm.
Each Communion service we meet our end. I've pointed out to you that many if not most of our hymns end with our dying. I've said many times that my prime duty as a shepherd of souls is not to teach you how to live but to teach you how to die. I do that every Sunday in the Communion service. Each Sunday we go through creation, to fall, to redemption, and re-creation. Every Sunday we die and rise by remembering we've been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Every Sunday the Lord of all time and space, the Lord of our times and the end times, comes to meet us personally in the Holy Communion.
See the intimate connection between our Communion service here, your end, and the world's end. Notice how after the Benediction I turn to my right instead of my left as I do the rest of the time I turn to face the altar. This makes a complete circle at the end. I start the service facing the altar and end facing it. We start in the name of the triune God and end with the Triune Lord putting His name on us so that we may go in peace.
Communion is always celebrated with one eye focused on the end. For Advent we will start saying the alternate Thanksgiving versicle and response which comes from St. Paul. I will say, "As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup," and you will chant, "Ye do show the Lord's death till He come." See what's most prominent when facing the Lord coming for us individually or for all? His death. His death for our sins. His death that brings us life.
Holy Communion is a celebration of the last promises the Lord made to us which are promises connected to His Second Coming for us or for all. In Matthew 28 He says, "Lo I am with you always even to the end of the age." And in Revelation 22 He promises, "Yes, I am coming soon." Through all the ages the church has passed in the last 2,000 years the Lord Jesus has kept His promises of being with us and coming soon by coming to be with us in every Communion service.
This link between our weekly Communion, our end, and the end is not something I made up. The Didache which some date even before St. John died (www.earlychristianwritings.com/didache.html) has the congregation saying this after Communion: "Let Grace (and Grace is capitalized indicating it refers to Jesus) come and this world pass away. Maranatha (which is Our Lord come!')" (10.6).
Every Divine Service the Church confesses these two things: all these things end and Jesus is with us through the end to a new beginning. There is one ending for those outside of Jesus and there is an alternate ending for those in Jesus. Are you in Jesus? Are you baptized into Him? Are you absolved by Him? Are you fed with His Body and Blood? Then let this world pass away; then let you pass away; Grace has come! Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Last Sunday in the Church Year (Mark 13: 1-13); 20121111