In the fifty-two Sundays of the year the Church attempts to summarize our world’s history. With a new Church Year beginning in five days on the First Sunday of Advent, we are now in the final week of the Church’s year, and the readings mark this with descriptions of the end of the world.
We do not know how literally we can take these descriptions. They seem to hint at two end-of-the-world-type calamities: one would be Jerusalem’s total destruction in the year 70 A.D., the other could be the death of our mortal bodies.
The Gospel’s scenes do fit with Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans. Then too, as in the Gospel, it was said, “Let those on the countryside not enter the city,” and, “Jerusalem would be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles. That’s how it happened.
Let’s take a look at that destruction. Simon, one of Our Lord’s Apostles, was identified as one of the Zealots, who were especially patriotic Jews. But after the year 60 A.D. some of the Zealots began wielding daggers called shiccas. Those Shiccaries were holed up in Jerusalem from where they ventured out to ambush Roman patrols.
When a decade of counter measures against the Shiccaries was ineffective, the Roman Senate in 69 A.D. commissioned General Vespasian to destroy the city entirely. He dug trenches around the city to cut off the water supply, and he constructed catapults for hurling fire over the walls. After he was named the next emperor, he turned Jerusalem’s destruction over to his son General Titus in whose efficient plan for destruction not a soul was spared, and not a stone was left upon a stone.
The Bible’s predictions about the end of the world could be fulfilled for us individually at our deaths. Although we have often been in close contact with dying people in their final moments, we have never been connected with them in the moments that followed. At Baptist funerals the eloquent preachers make it sound like a joy ride to a wonderful family gathering in the sky. Maybe.
Our priests had a party for our former ordinary, Bishop Paul Tanner. Knowing he was in his final year he expressed his concern about those moments following the loss of oxygen for the brain. My recollection of what he said goes like this, “Our conscious thought is tied up with our cerebellums, so it is hard to see how conscious thought could continue after our physical brains shut down. I believe in the resurrection of our bodies at the end of time, but between my death and the end of the world, time-wise there could be a considerable lacuna.”
While taking a long walk yesterday I began marveling at the way all God’s creatures carry out his plans for their existence. The birds swirl without crashing. The winds sweep away fumes. The clouds silently transport millions of tons of water to where it is needed. It gave me a solid assurance that in my death his plans will work out well for me.