S. Pentecost 23:19 Luke 21:5-28 “The Only Thing About The Last Day…”
Our Old Testament reading reminds us how unfortunate our Synod’s late and little lamented “Ablaze!” outreach program was—what an amazing advertisement for the utter biblical cluelessness of our Synod’s leadership it presented! The idea that being set “Ablaze!” was a good thing, a thing to be desired to make one wise and/or prosperous is completely against the biblical usage of the term “ablaze”—as we see in Malachi today.
For Malachi, as for the rest of the biblical writers, to be set “ablaze” is something that happens at the Last Day to the arrogant and evildoers such that it leaves them utterly desolate. It’s a bad thing, in other words. Not something you want to happen to you, but—and here’s the part that strangely warms my heart—it’s something the righteous absolutely want to see—in much the same way as the t-shirt that shows a zombie and a rifle and says “The only thing about the Zombie Apocalypse, when it comes, that will be difficult for me is pretending I’m not excited.”
The Last Day will be awesome for Christians in the same way! Because the Return of Christ in glory will do two things that we absolutely long to see: 1) it will utterly destroy the arrogant evildoers who killed Christ and many of His saints and 2) it will perfectly transform Christians into Christ’s Image so we behold His Glory joyfully—and yes; you and I are in both groups!
I’ve noticed something that gets surprisingly little comment: hell’s fire and Heaven’s Light are the same thing! While most people think the fire of hell and the Light of Glory are completely different Lights, Malachi shows that, Nope!: the Fire that sets the arrogant evildoers “Ablaze!” and the Light of Glory that transfigures the righteous is the Same Light from the Same Son. This Light burns up evildoers while healing Christians.
Because… while we all have an evil/arrogant Old Adam, Christians also have a New Adam in, with, and under the old, put there by Christ through Word and Sacrament. It’s why the sight of God’s Glory both kills and exalts the faithful of Old. It’s why Jesus says that following Him means dying first in order to rise. No Crown without the Cross. It’s not an entirely benign procedure. But for the faithful, it only burns for a sec, and we’re glad to see that old self go—like Isaiah getting scorched and healed by the same fiery coal.
Today’s Gospel shows how…
The disciples have been acting like typical tourists in Jerusalem, gawking at the temple mount and the marvelous buildings and the strange aura of light and holiness that suffuses that city even today. I can better appreciate this after finally visiting Jerusalem myself a couple years ago. It really has a special radiance, like nowhere else in the world—like God’s own City, still, despite… no, because of all that’s happened there.
Anyway, they are gushing over the place, the noble stones and offerings, when Jesus goes: “The days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” For me, seeing, touching the rubble of those noble stones that were indeed thrown down 40 years to the day that Jesus was crucified there only made the effect more powerful.
The disciples are shaken, not stirred, by this News. Wobbly, they go: “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And Jesus tells us first and foremost not to be led astray. Many will come saying “I am!” and “The time is at hand!” but we should not follow them. We will hear of wars and tumults, but hey, don’t be terrified, for these things all have to go down. The Zombie Apocalypse will come, (metaphorically speaking, of course 🙂
The Last Day will be hectic, no doubt, like the Zombie Apocalypse is pretty hectic. But if you’re armed and trained, who doesn’t enjoy shooting Nazi Zombies? How is the world not made better with them gone? And how is the dispatching not thrilling? There’s a reason those video games are popular!
Same with the Last Day for Christians! The Sun of Righteousness will be a joyous Light of Glory that will thrill and delight and transfigure us, removing finally every trace of sin from us, letting us finally look on the Glory of God with joy, not terror, transforming us at Last into the Image of the Lord we love—Jesus! And who doesn’t want to be made just like our favorite Superhero? Who would not enjoy sharing fully in His Likeness, as well as all His Adventures?
Our Gospel makes it sound like Heaven’s not going to be just one, big choir practice with harps, halos, clouds—serene calm. Sounds like there’s zombies to dispatch! Because Heaven is not for jerks. And if the Lord tosses us a rifle and goes: “On your left! Zombie, 10 o’clock. On My mark… 3,2,1 fire!”? Well! I don’t know about you, and maybe I just haven’t grown up enough, maybe I watched too many episodes of Jonny Quest, read too many Batman comics when I was little, played too many 1st person shooter games, but it sounds completely wonderful, to me!
I worry—maybe some of you do too?—what we’ll do, exactly, in Heaven. Boredom is the great bane of my existence and so I wonder what heaven will have in the way of extreme sport, or if we’ll be expected to have outgrown our childish love of adventure, excitement?
And I have to say; I am greatly encouraged—really digging the sound of Jesus’ description of Heaven, Day One. Earthquakes, famines, pestilences? Nation rising against nation? Terrors, great sights in the heavens? And adventures for us in the days, weeks before the Final Battle?—having the Imperial Storm Troopers chasing us (like Han, Luke, Leia), being drug before kings and evil emperors as a Rebel Alliance to be dispatched? Dungeons, dragons, dangerous escapades? Carbon freezing? And getting a smart mouth on us (smarter even than Indy’s or Han’s!) that none of our adversaries can withstand or contradict? Wisecracks flowing, constantly: “I liked the Austrian way better!”* Being hated by the villains, for Christ’s sake?
I’m sorry, but that sounds AWESOME, to me! Better than anything even Spielberg, Lucas, or Epic Games have come up with! Why watch Indiana Jones when you could be him? Even if we get whacked in the mayhem, well… hey! Our Captain can raise the dead(!!!), give new lives to the fallen(!) so even that sounds like fun, right?
Jerusalem’s surrounded by armies… distress upon the earth, wrath against the people, barbarians invading, trampling the city; looks like all is lost (though we’re still flailing away 🙂 saying our goodbyes to brothers/sisters in arms on the ramparts, going down like heroes, like Jesus went down in the same spot on a Cross… and then: with sun, moon, and stars literally falling, a fireworks display like none other, special effects like DreamWorks never dreamed, going out in a blaze of Glory, while everyone else’s losing their heads, fainting from fear, the powers of heaven shaken, but you’re going: “Oh, this is way cool!—even if it kills me, this is totally AWESOME!” And then, catching our first glimpse of Jesus’ unveiled Glory, we realize: this really is killing me(!), but who cares? The Vision’s too Glorious; you’d happily die a thousand times in this game…
We straighten up, raise our heads—finally, our Redemption draws nigh!—and how can you not LOVE IT? That’s Heaven; Day One! What can you say to such a ride except: “Again! More!”?
The only thing about the Last Day that will be difficult for me is pretending I’m not excited—right? Well, good news, Christ fans! The Day’s here, now; as, by Word and Sacrament, through Faith Alone, you’re made a player in the Greatest Game; in Jesus’ Name. Amen.