(…continued) Cartoonists wanting to make a point about our gloomy future will sometimes portray a scruffy, long-haired, street corner prophet, holding a sign saying, “THE END IS NEAR.” Everyone chuckles, but there is always a bit of anxiety beneath the laughter because we all know the sign speaks the truth. Time goes by fast, and whether it is the end of the whole world, or just the end of little old me, we all know it’s coming. Even if it is decades away, it will be here before we know it. The end IS near. That was a big part of the message of Jesus. He was always saying things like, “Be alert; be watchful; the kingdom of God is at hand; don’t let it catch you unprepared.”
One cartoonist did a slightly different take on the prophet on the street corner cartoon. In this cartoon there was the usual scruffy, long-haired man with a sign, standing on a street corner; only this time the sign said, “It will NEVER end.” Hmmm…!? (the above cartoon cleverly combines both)
There is something a bit unpleasant about that thought, too, isn’t there? It is not without reason that we talk about those who are dead as being ‘at rest.’ The time does come for many people when they are more than ready for that rest. I have seen many people at that point.
Now of course the Christian hope for heaven is for a place that will never end. But that will be a very different place, one without the illnesses, conflicts, misunderstandings, uncertainties, and sadness that wear us down and can make us so weary of this life. There is something in us that longs for rest from this world and this life, and at the same time longs for eternal life.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has placed eternity within our hearts, so there is something in us that rebels against the confines of only a few years. But I also know that I do not want to live in this sad world forever. The threat of death is one we are familiar with and find unpleasant. But if, on the other hand, the threat was that ‘it would never end here,’ I think we would eventually find that thought equally unpleasant.
“You have six months to live,” said the doctor to the 35 year-old husband and father. The end is near. That is the awful threat of death.
“You have only a few days to live,” said the nurse to the terminally ill 86 year-old after enduring months of pain. The end is near. That is good news to one who has lived a full life, and is now tired of suffering and ready to go home to his Lord.
My neighbor and good friend Mel died last month, and he was ready to go. Every time his hospice nurse would visit, he would greet her with a big smile and say cheerfully, “Well nurse, is this the day?” He, and many others, felt the frustration of that sign which said “It will never end.” It can seem like that for a long time. These people want the end to come, and for them death holds the promise of peace and rest and an end to suffering and a better home beyond death.
The promise that death holds out for us is wonderfully described in the sixth verse of the hymn “All Creatures of Our God and King.” St. Francis, the writer of that hymn, had much conflict and disappointment and illness in his short life, and then died in his early 40’s. Of death he writes:
And you, most kind and gentle death,
Waiting to hush our final breath,
You lead to heaven the child of God,
Where Christ our Lord the way has trod.
Mark 13:32, 33…37 — (Jesus said), “About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come…. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
John 16:22 — (Jesus said), “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
Revelation 22:20 — He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
When Christ shall come, with shouts of acclamation
To take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration
And there proclaim, My God how great thou art.
–Stuart K. Hine (1899-1989)