And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.
Saint Mark invites us to think about the end of the world. He offers us a vision of ‘a gathering together’. There is great encouragement for us in this not only to hope that we are among the chosen but that we will be part of this final gathering from the four winds.
‘The gathering together’ at the end of everything will be a bringing about of peace. The ultimate victory of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, will be to bring to an end all conflict and division. The Lord will bring into harmony all those who have been opposed to each other. Our quarrels will subside. We will be at peace. This is a peace imposed by the One who has great power and glory. The peace is imposed by him on us who are quarrelsome and divided. However the eternal peace will not be against our will. We long for such harmony and welcome it with joy. Specifically, we cherish the space that such peace as we presently enjoy, even in tumultuous days, can be filled with prayer. Part of the Lord’s impact on us is to quell our violence and interior disharmony to allow us enough serenity for listening to him and speaking to him peacefully.
‘The gathering together’ at the end of everything is the arrival of calm after trouble. The scriptural end of the world is the conclusion of a time of great tribulation and trouble. There is going to be a time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence. The Second Coming will overtake us in thlipsis and great distress. Is there any comfort to us in the thought that any trouble that afflicts us is an opportunity to meet the returning Christ? There will one day be the final affliction and the final reckoning. In the meantime, trouble finds us not entirely unprepared. The Lord is schooling us in doing well through difficulties. Christ will lighten our way even if this present trouble is not the final affliction. Like Saint Michael the Archangel, the great prince, mounting guard on those in danger, we prepare ourselves for difficulty by recourse to God. We meet the Lord on his way to us. We welcome his solutions to our problems. God re-discovers what he has planted in us: courage and perseverance; goodness and truthfulness.
‘The gathering together’ at the end of everything is a recovery of integrity. Our life can be quite fragmented. We are often a house divided against ourselves. However when we welcome Christ, integrity and unity-of-purpose returns. Whether it is in his Second Coming or in his approach to us today at Mass or in any of our daily encounters with the Lord, Jesus’ coming nearer transforms us. From the four winds of our sins, our moods, the returning Jesus Christ draws us into unity. We are to be unified in ourselves: what we have become and what we could be. Christ gathers us together: into the life of God; into our true selves.
‘The gathering together’ at the end of everything is a restoration. The Second Coming presents itself to us as a finding-again of what has been lost. All the good gifts of God which have been dispersed to the four winds will be brought together again. Life can sometimes feel like a continual subtraction of goodness but God knows all and keeps all and restores all. The gracious understanding which seemed to have been lost in forgetfulness or dementia or folly will be made good. All that we have been taught by God we will then truly know: the learned will shine as brightly as the vault of heaven, and those who have instructed many in virtue, will be as bright as stars for all eternity.
‘The gathering together’ at the end of everything is a reunion. When that time comes, your own people will be spared, all those whose names are found written in the Book. Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake…We look forward to being reunited in the end-time with those dear ones who have gone ahead of us into eternal life. Love cannot be destroyed and we who have been loved and seek now to love them well will find them again. All the blocks to love will be broken down by Jesus returning. He who himself once returned from the grave will now search all graves for his loving friends. Our reunion with those from whom we have been separated will be complete and, now, unimpeded. We thought we had lost them: yet they will be restored to us.
‘The gathering together’ at the end of everything will be a time of completion and holiness. By virtue of that one single offering, Jesus our High Priest, has achieved the eternal perfection of all whom he is sanctifying. Christ has been engaged in a long mission of creation, redemption and sanctification. His work will one day be complete. Our alertness for his return, which is a way of describing our life of faith, is not only an openness to scrutiny but a willingness, even now, to be made holy as our Father is holy.
‘The gathering together’ at the end of everything will be a renewal of certainty after uncertainty. We know not the day or the hour either of our own death or of the end of the world. But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father. Jesus urges us to be ready, to be on the alert, to be spiritually vigilant. At the end we will know with complete certainty all that we need to know. At the end we will also be judged. For the moment Jesus stands with us and allows judgement on us to be a judgment on him. On the last day he will not edge away from us but in fact come closer. There is scrutiny, judgment and, undeniably, possible shame, in his proximity. There is also, in the Lord’s nearness, an abundance of love and grace.
One day, scanning the horizon, we will know that Jesus has returned. His second coming will find us we are told, in great affliction. Jesus’ return will surely also find us full of hope. Our hope is of peace, harmony, integrity, restoration, reunion, completion and holiness. Into perfect goodness we will be gathered from the four winds.