The Jitters of the Last Day

by Edmond Lo
First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 63:16B-17, 19B; 642-7

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13:33-37

This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent. The Church continues to prepare for the coming of the Lord, in terms of both his first coming as our Savior and his return in glory as our Judge. Those of us who have been paying attention cannot but notice the strong flavor of eschatological imminence that has characterized the scriptural readings of the recent weeks:

• Prepare well for the Lord, who will bring those who have fallen asleep with him upon his return; don’t make the mistake of the foolish ones in the parable of the ten virgins (2nd reading and Gospel, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time).
• Stay alert! The Lord will “come like a thief at night” (1 Thes 5:2); in his final judgement, He will hold us accountable for all the gifts that we have received from Him (2nd reading and Gospel, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time).
• On the Last Day, Jesus will judge us according to our works of charity. The righteous ones will go to his right and receive eternal life; the evil ones will go to his left and suffer eternal punishment (Gospel, Christ the King).

On this First Sunday of Advent, the imminence of the Lord’s Day takes on a new urgency. “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come,” Jesus tells his disciples (Mk 13:33). St. Paul also implores God to keep the Corinthian church “firm to the end” so that they will be “irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8).

The metaphors used in the Scriptures to explain Christ’s second coming are many and varied. In addition to those mentioned above, the more popular ones are: stone hewn from a mountain that broke up the statue of iron, tile, bronze, silver, and gold (Daniel 2); “One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13); natural disasters, wars, persecutions of Christians (Lk 21:10-28); the two beasts from the sea and the earth (Rev 13), the new Jerusalem (Rev 21), etc.

Of all the amazing images that the Scriptures use to disclose the concluding chapter of all human history – a chapter so irresistible and yet so unfathomable to the human mind – the most intriguing one is that of the Lamb being united with his bride in a joyous heavenly feast (cf. Rev 19). The bride, wearing “a bright, clean linen garment” (Rev 19:8), is ready. The Lamb, with eyes “like a fiery flame”, “many diadems” on his head, and a cloak soaked with blood on his body (Rev 19:12-13), is somehow depicted as glorious and victorious. This somewhat bizarre image, of course, is the Book of Revelation’s rendition of the sweet bridal union of the Church with Christ, her Bridegroom, in the end.

The Lamb, slain but standing (cf. Rev 5:6), has been enthroned to receive honor and glory (cf. Rev 5:6, 12; 3:21). The bride, married to the Lamb and one in unity with Him, is already a heavenly reality even if she continues to traverse in this world order as the Church and the Mystical Body of Christ. As we celebrate the beginning of another Advent season, we must, on the one hand, follow St. Paul’s advice to “stay alert and sober”, knowing that the final curtain of this long human drama is about to come down at any moment (1 Thes 5:6). On the other hand, we also must remember our one-flesh union with Christ and stay hopeful every time we receive the Eucharist. Fear not! For wherever the Head goes, his Body follows. It is the whole Christ – the Mystical Body together with the Head – that is taken into heaven. “[A]s the Head cannot be separated from the members, so the members cannot be separated from the Head,” explained Pope Leo the Great. The fact of the matter is: heaven already belongs to us! Stay in communion with the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, and we will receive “the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim 4:8)!