Eucharist – Advent 1 – Sun 29th Nov
29 November 2020 – Advent 1 Isaiah 64.1-9: 1 Corinthians 1. 3-9:
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Last week we heard about the kingdom of Christ – the one we pray for day by day – and thought about the restoration of the monarchy, in this earthly country, long ago. There had been a bitter war, a great plague, and strict new laws for everyone to keep: they even banned parties at Christmas. Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Yet today the church starts its new year, and begins to prepare itself for later.
But it isn’t all glad tidings of great joy (even if Boris will let us relax just a bit): we’ve still got to wait for that. For these few weeks, we stand alongside our OT forebears, wondering how long it will be before we see judgment, whilst pleading for mercy meanwhile. Jesus, in our Gospel reading, updates the disciples: no-one (not even he) can be sure when the end will come – only that it will. Pretty scary stuff. But (he warns) since it could be at any moment, it’s better to get yourself ready – and stay that way. It may take more than one go. But perhaps there’s a clue in his word that there has to be suffering first, which he does not know yet will be his, on behalf of us all on the Cross, which, with hindsight ,we do: or perhaps I am clutching at straws – because nobody knows. Time is so short, yet slow coming, and it’s such a temptation to rush for the sake of apparent control.
You may have seen Bishop Mark’s reflection for Advent – sent out last week, so as to reach us in time. In it, he commends to us a particular prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. Eastern Orthodox believers use it a lot, and repeat it perhaps thirty or fifty times in a row, to get past the words to the very heart of the meaning; they breathe in for the first line, and out for the second. Asking Christ’s mercy then becomes part of your very being, your life depends on it, and you aspire to him with every breath (even asleep) by the grace of the Holy Spirit. It could hardly be better. The fear, though, at this time of year, is that you will never be ready, and so give up hope: or beat yourself up for being the world’s worst sinner, if only you could work out how before it’s too late.
That’s why the penitential seasons of Advent (before Christmas) and Lent (before Easter) are limited: they do come to an end, which is (I think) a mercy in itself – just what you are praying for! By all means consider the state of your soul, and be privately, and honestly, specific before God: good practice will get you ready for judgment, when it comes, which won’t be until you are (even!) perfect: God’s work in you finished.Meanwhile, accept the absolution spoken to you on Christ’s behalf within the Holy Eucharist by one of his priests, and receive the Sacrament: it will keep you “plugged in” to redemption. One of our worst human failings is to wallow in sins that we need not, or to make ourselves feel bad about stuff as a way of seeking attention. Don’t do it! God loves you as you are, and has gone to great lengths through the Cross to redeem you – which means keep you as his very own. Don’t throw it all away; just say “thank-you” at regular intervals, and “sorry” as need arises. That way, please God, you’ll be fit and ready, now, at last, and whenever he calls you to feast in his kingdom.