Brothers and Sisters, at this time of the year, the Church’s liturgy is giving us a course on the “last things”, as we call them, or “eschatology” if you want a fancy word. We’re being pointed to the future.
Just take today’s readings. They talk of a time of great distress, cosmic upheaval, of judgement on evil, Christ’s enemies made his footstool. They speak of the coming of Christ, of resurrection from the dead, of the final gathering of God’s people. It’s like a series of dramatic images being flashed onto a screen. And it’s bewildering. Is it to be taken literally? Is it symbolic? On the one hand, Jesus seems to say – 2000 years ago – this is all about to happen. On the other hand, that only the Father knows the hour. There’s a gap between words and a future reality here. Perhaps we feel rather like we felt as children listening to adult conversations, about money or politics for example. We could probably get most of the words they were using, but we couldn’t grasp the realities to which they referred. Or it’s like listening to someone talking about a sport which one has never followed.
I must admit I have struggled with these “last things”. I used to wonder if I believed in them. But no, I think I do. Faith is a decision; it’s an act of the will. I decide, by God’s grace, to believe in God’s revelation of himself and its transmission by the Church. So I believe. The problem was conceiving of these things, and making sense of all the data of Scripture. The main affirmation is: Christ will come again. But it’s so hard to get a grip of. Earlier in Chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel, the disciples ask, ‘When will this be, and what will be the sign that these things are going to be accomplished?’ Exactly.
But then the Holy Spirit rescued me. What is the sign that Christ will come again? It was looking at me. It was the Mass. It was the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Christ already comes again. We believe, don’t we, that in the celebration of the Eucharist, the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ which took place on Calvary 2000 years ago is made sacramentally present? In the Eucharist, the past comes into the present. Yes. But so does the future. The Mass joins the future and the past. In a hidden way, under signs, it contains, it is, the future. This is why, ever since St Paul, we say “until he comes again”. I can believe in Christ coming again because I believe in him coming now: the risen and glorified Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. “What will be the sign that this will happen?” Here it is: in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, alive and life-giving. Here it is: In the transformation of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of his Body and Blood – a pointer to the transformation of the material world to come.
Let’s go back to today’s Gospel, to its first half, and re-read it holding the lamp of the Eucharist. Jesus says three things. First, “in those days the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” Cosmic meltdown. Yes, but something more. Notice the word “powers”. The people of the ancient world looked on the sun, the moon and the stars, not just as sources of light – something good – but as powers that dominated them, that determined their destiny, locked them in, took them prisoner – not good. And if these powers were collapsing, this was or could be good news. It spelled freedom. Here’s the point: this is precisely what, in a hidden way, happens at Mass, happens when we are in adoration before the Lord. In our own way, we are quite as oppressed as our ancestors. We can feel captive to our unconscious, to our biology, to economic forces over which we have no control, to the price of oil, to the power of people in power. And in the Eucharist, these powers meet another power and have to give way. And so Jesus says, secondly, “then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory”. Here comes the true power, the good power, the power that empowers and makes us free. It is here, in a hidden way, in the Eucharist. “Then they will see the Son of Man coming.” That’s what we see, under signs, in the Eucharist. “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him…” That’s what we see exposed in the monstrance. In the Eucharist, he comes on the clouds, that is, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. He comes, hiddenly, “with great power and glory”. He comes to free us from the powers that oppress us. He comes to detonate within us, just as he will in the end detonate in the whole universe. “Then too, thirdly, he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.” There it is again. At the Eucharist, through the angels – those exercising ministry within our liturgies – the chosen are gathered. “What will be the sign?” Here it is! Here it is throughout the world this very Sunday.
So, brothers and sisters, if we want to believe and conceive the last things, the final victory of Christ, let’s go to the Eucharist – to Mass, to holy communion when we can, along the paths the Church prescribes, let’s go to adoration. If we want to begin to be freed from the powers that oppress us, let’s go the Eucharist. If we want our lives to be different, if we want to be freer in ourselves, more open to others, less alone, more part of a Body, let’s go to the Eucharist! There is the sign. Yes, “you will show me the path of life, / the fullness of joy in your presence, / at your right hand happiness for ever.”