In one of his last songs, the great prophet Johnny Cash saw the end of the world as something that catches all human beings off guard. In his song, ‘When the Man comes around’ (the ‘Man’ here being Jesus), he says,
Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singing;
Multitudes are marching to a big kettledrum.
Voices calling and voices crying,
Some are born and some are dying.
It’s Alpha and Omega’s kingdom come.
What should surprise us is that Johnny Cash, who has a greater wisdom here than most people, sees that the end of the world is not a bad thing at all, but a very good thing.
About eighty years ago, an American author called Myles Connolly (who later became a Hollywood screenwriter) wrote a novel called Mr Blue. In it, the eponymous protagonist Mr Blue, begins to tell a story about someone he calls ‘prisoner 2757311’. The story is set a thousand years in the future, in the kingdom of the anti-Christ, which is a dark, malevolent, inhuman dictatorship in a bleak, industrial landscape.
One day, the last known Christian is captured and executed, and ‘prisoner 2757311’, who secretly is a priest, goes to the top of a skyscraper and celebrates Mass one last time. His treason is discovered, and planes are sent to bomb the building he is in. But as the secret police close in on him, and a bomb heads directly at him, he reaches the words of consecration. He takes the bread and says, ‘This is my body…’ and then
‘There was a moment of awful silence. Then, a burst of light beside which day itself is dusk. Then, a trumpet peal, a single trumpet peal that shook the universe… The earth burst asunder… And through this unspeakably luminous new day, through the vault of the sky ribbed with lightning came Christ… It was the end of the world!’
The story that Mr Blue tells is a fantasy of course, but it is a fantasy which holds a great truth. It is one way to imagine the end of the world, and it is a way that captures the essence of every single Mass we celebrate. At the consecration during Mass, Christ is truly present body, blood, soul and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine. But if – for example – the appearances themselves should change to the natural and glorified form of Christ, it would be the end of the world. This is exactly what we pray for at every Mass. ‘Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life, Lord Jesus come in glory!’ or ‘When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.’ At every Mass we are always praying that Christ will come again.
Ever Mass we celebrate is one Mass less before the end of the world, but more than that, every Mass is praying that Jesus will come again and end the world and end the Mass. We say that we eat this bread and drink this cup until he comes in glory, and when he does come in glory, then we will no longer need this bread and this cup. We will no longer need the Eucharist because the same Jesus we now receive sacramentally at Mass we will then see directly face-to-face. As the second reading tells us, ‘Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.’ In heaven we will be completely forgiven, thoroughly made holy. The one single sacrifice of Christ on Calvary will have completely sanctified us, and we will not need the Mass then.
The end of the world is therefore a good thing, and it is something that we Christians pray for and look forward to, not because we are fed up with this world, but because we love this world even as God loves it, and we long for it to be made whole and perfect, which God in his love for us will accomplish at the blast of the last trumpet. Until then, we pray, Come Lord Jesus!
At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
“But in those days, after that tribulation, 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. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And 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 say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Scripture passage from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright 1989, 1993, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.