How many times have you said to yourself, “I can’t wait for the day when…” When what? When the day of your wedding finally arrives or when you hold that new baby for the first time? When you’re out of debt? When you pay off your mortgage? When your children are out of school and financially independent? When you can tell your boss that you’re outta here? When you can retire? Or when you’re ensconced on the beach with a book in one hand and a margarita in the other? When what? When you don’t have to worry about your children, your family, how you’ll make ends meet, or how you will save your marriage. There is always a great deal of emotion in anticipation of “the day,” whether that day signals joy and promise of many more wonderful days ahead. Or whether those days strike fear and dread in your hearts, such as the day you lose your job, the day you’re sent to fight a war or the day you learn your duty has been extended. Or the day you’re told that your loved one has four months to live, as one of our parishioners was told last week about her sister. These days thrust us into sadness and struggle with little or no light at the end of the tunnel. When these days come, whether they are the good or the bad, would it benefit us to think of them in terms of the Lord’s Day rather than our own day?
The Day of the Lord was always a day of anticipation for the people of ancient Israel. Originally it was perceived as a day of fulfillment when the world would be transformed. It was dreamed of as a blessed state of affairs, a utopia brought about by God, God’s dream for the earth. There are descriptions of the Lord’s Day from Jewish sources who wrote near the time of Jesus. One speaks of life without care in which “springs of wine, honey and milk flow on the earth.” And one wrote: “The earth will belong equally to all, undivided by walls or fences…Lives will be common and wealth will have no division. For there will be no poor man there, no rich, and no tyrant, no slave. Further, no one will be either great or small anymore. No kings, no leaders. All will be on a par together.” i Jesus claimed that this long-awaited day was dawning as he inaugurated the Kingdom of God.
But the sinfulness, the unfaithfulness, the estrangement of the people required that there be a period of purging before that fulfillment could come to pass. For this reason, some of the prophets warned that the Day of the Lord would first be a day of suffering. They even compared that suffering to the pangs of child birth. In fact, such suffering was sometimes referred to as the “birth pangs of the messiah.” Today’s readings focus on the painful aspects of “that day.”
The prophet Malachi, whose name means “my messenger,” shows us both dimensions of that future day. For the sinful, it will be a day of fiery purification; for the righteous, it will be a day of healing. As the passage for today begins, the people ask Malachi why they should keep the Lord’s commandments when the evildoers have defied God and have prospered even while flaunting their indifference and arrogance (3:15b). The prophet then offers assurance that the Lord was fully aware of all that had happened and kept a record, “a book of remembrance.” “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as parents spare their children” and “the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings” (3:17, 4: 2a).
We’re left here with an indelible image of a book, a permanent record of who was naughty and who was nice. This Book of Life is mentioned eight times in the Bible. What is interesting is that it is described in both the books of Malachi, the last book of the Christian Old Testament, and The Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. In Revelation it is called the “Lamb’s Book of Life,” and here is what is said about it: “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. And the dead were judged accordingly to their works, as recorded in the books” (Rev. 20:12). By my estimation we should consider this recorded history of our lives pretty seriously.
I don’t know about you, but I find the idea of Christ reading a book about me that records the entirety of my life thus far, and then rendering a judgment, pretty darn scary. What I would hope would be that on the day of November 18, 2007, he would take note of a change, self-awareness, a turn-around, a gold star of repentance. Frankly, what I think the Lord wants us to know about this Book of Life is that we’re writing it for ourselves right now, and not for God, who will whack us over the head with it in the afterlife. When Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God he was saying that the time is fulfilled now, not a time that will come “as in heaven,” but here on earth. A few chapters earlier in Luke, when Jesus is asked by some Pharisees when the kingdom would come, Jesus said, “for in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (17:20).
The early Christians believed that after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, he would return and bring all things to completion. Some, it seems, felt that since the day of fulfillment had already dawned with the coming of Jesus, all they had to do was wait for his return. We say this very thing in our Eucharistic prayer: Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. While we profess that Christ will come again; my hope is that Christ will come again and again and again…in our lives now. It does not mean that we hold out all of our hope for some unforeseen and unknown future. The fact is Christ did not come back when the voices of the Bible said he would.
This is why we must begin to write our autobiographies now and not be passive witnesses to the Lamb’s Book of Life. Think of it as composing your eulogy now. How do you want to be portrayed? What do you want the overarching themes of your auto biography to reflect—that you acted with compassion and generosity of spirit or that you were selfish, angry and indifferent? Perhaps the more important question to ask yourself is what would your family and friends write about you in their biography of you and would it resemble your own? When I think of my own children, I wonder if they will record whether or not I kept a clean house or that I always looked spiffy in the latest fashions or whether I took mission trips to places like the Sudan in an effort to heal and love my neighbor and whether or not I loved my husband and them and cared for and protected them at all costs.
Today’s readings, especially the Gospel, reflect the suffering side of our faith, a faith that claims that God can bring life out of death. Thus life’s inescapable suffering, if accepted and endured in the spirit of Jesus, can act as a purifying agent. Today the challenge of acceptance and endurance is placed before us. “By your endurance you will gain your souls” (Luke 21:19).
It is appropriate that we consider the advent of this age of fulfillment as the liturgical year comes to a close. During the year we have been led through the mysteries of death and resurrection, and now the drama of our faith is about to be brought to fulfillment. Today’s psalm reminds us just how this drama will end: “The Lord…comes to rule the earth; he will rule the world with justice and the peoples with equity.” Thus, though the readings focus on the suffering of “that day,” we are reminded that the final scene is one of victory and fulfillment. And lo, that day is surely coming.