Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
They (whoever “they” are) say that “a watched pot never boils.” As you know, that just means that if we sit and stare at the water in the pot, it will seem to take a lot longer to reach the boiling point. We say “never,” but we know that, eventually, every pot boils on the stove (usually when you’ve gone out of the room to do something else). In the same way that we grow impatient waiting for water to boil, the Church seems to have grown weary of waiting for Jesus to return; become a little too comfortable with the present state of affairs; forgotten that we are strangers and sojourners in this place.
It has been close to 2,000 years since His Ascension and some have already said “never” about the Lord’s return. It has taken so long that it seems as if it will never happen. But just as the water eventually boils, even in the face of our “never,” sooner or later your Lord will come back, even though some say “never.” Jesus says, “Watch, be alert; for you do not know when the time is” (Mark 13:33). “Stay awake, then. For you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or in the middle of the night, or when the rooster crows, or early [in the morning], lest, when He comes unexpectedly, He should find you sleeping. What I say to you I say to all: ‘Stay awake’” (Mark 13:35-37).
Watch, be alert, stay awake. You and I are in the same position as all of creation, including the angels, including even Jesus in His human humility: we don’t know when He is coming. But when He does come, it won’t be a secret. When He does come, everyone “will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. And then He will send the angels and He will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the end of earth to the end of heaven” (Mark 13:26-27). That much is certain, as certain as water boiling over high heat, as certain as summer following spring. The only uncertainty we have is about when it all will happen. But Christians know that Jesus is always near, always at the door.
When that eternal door opens, it will be a terrifying day for those who have rejected Jesus and His Word. But who are we to be afraid? Who are we to worry? “[W]e are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39, ESV). We are those who watch. Brothers and sisters, beloved members of the one Body of Christ, these things are a call for the endurance of the saints. The continuing and increasing call to stay alert and watch is a call to return again and again to the One who is coming to gather you, His elect and chosen ones. We know who that One is. He has stood among us in the flesh. And in His flesh the end of all things, the eternal judgment of God on sin and death, fell upon Him. While He hung on the cross, “when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” (Mark 15:33, ESV). The sun and the moon and the stars were darkened; they hid their faces and refused to shine at the death of their creator. The powers were shaken; the earth shook and the rocks were split (Matthew 27:51). But the dawn of the new creation came on the third day, when the Sun of Righteousness rose with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2).
That same Jesus will come again in His glorified Body to gather every person the Father has chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). That is the great hope and expectation of the Church. From the very beginning, the Church has gathered around her Lord on the day of His resurrection and prayed her common Table prayer, “Maran atha Jesus! Come, Lord Jesus!” (1 Corinthians 16:22; cf. Revelation 22:20).
This is how the Church lives between the resurrection of Christ’s body and the completion of our baptism when He raises our bodies. This is how the Church watches: in and with Christ, her Lord, as He speaks to us and feeds us. We do not watch by standing around looking into the sky. Remember what the angels said to the Apostles at Jesus’ Ascension: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11, ESV). The Church has always trusted that word of Christ’s messengers. We do not look into the heavens for comfort; they will vanish like smoke and pass away. We do not look around the earth for certainty; it will wear out like a garment and pass away. We do not look at the inhabitants of the earth and their rulers for hope; they will die like gnats and pass away. No, we look at Jesus where He has promised to be; His Word will never pass away.
From the time of the Apostles, the Church has watched for her Lord in this way: by being “devoted to the teaching of the Apostles and the fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42); and by giving to those in need what was first given to them. So we, too, gather week by week around that Apostolic Word, which is nothing other than the Word of Jesus; we, too, gather in the fellowship of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church; we, too, gather around this Table, where the bread is broken and we eat the Lord’s Body, where the cup is blessed and we drink the Lord’s Blood; and we, too, gather to pray the prayers of the Church’s liturgy. And then we go out from this place to do the Lord’s work in fervent love for one another. Jesus is not absent from us, off in some heaven where He cannot speak to us. No, He said, “See, I Myself am with you all the days until the completion of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Until the completion of the age, Jesus continues to work through His Church. He says, “Make disciples, and here’s how you do that: baptize them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to keep and observe everything I have commanded and given to you.” And He says to us, as to His closest friends in the Garden, “Stay awake and pray, in order that you might not come into temptation. Indeed, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Impatience, sloth, misplaced priorities, and all the weakness of our flesh conspire with the world and the devil to lull us into a sleep untroubled by the lateness of the hour. How often we lose the urgency of Jesus (if we ever had it)! How often our eyelids become heavy and our muscles slow with the narcotics of this world. The sedatives are numerous and easily available: entertainments and distractions, drugs and alcohol and skin.
But Jesus is shaking us awake again today: “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is hindering [you]” (Mark 14:41). He says it week after week, but we cannot seem to keep ourselves awake; we must pray for the strength of the Lord. “Watch therefore, and pray, that you do not sleep unto death” (Apostolic Constitutions, Mark, ACCS, 186). Watch, be alert, stay awake, pray. Do the work which He has given to you, whether husband or wife, father, mother, son, or daughter; teacher, student, employer, or employee. During the time when He is not visibly with us, He has left us each to our own work, commanding the doorkeepers of His House to stay awake and watch for His coming.
As a doorkeeper of His House, I say to you the Word of the Lord through St. Paul: “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-10, ESV). Every created thing, infected with the sin of Adam, will pass away, but the things of God in Jesus Christ will never pass away. His salvation is forever, and His righteousness will never be dismayed. “The heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10, ESV). “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13, ESV). As we wait and work and watch, we continue to pray the Table prayer of the Church of God in Jesus Christ: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). Amen. Come quickly.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/21/18