20 Fri Nov 2009
15 Sun Nov 2009
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!