St. Matthew 24: 15-28
November 18, 2018 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Wherever the Body is, there the eagles will gather.
Having been warned about the destruction of the Temple, the disciples asked Christ: “What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” Part of His response was that when they saw the abomination of desolation which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem they would know that the end was upon them.
That has now taken place. The end is upon us. The destruction of Jerusalem is more than a time marker though. It is also a warning. The end has begun. We live in the last days. All the signs are fulfilled and it is going to get worse.
We can look around and see the evidence. We endure wars and threat of worse war. Mass shootings and terrorism are almost common place. Natural disasters seem to be getting worse. Doctors kill babies in the name of “health care.” Morality has never been lower, men never crueler, the family never less realized or recognized. On top of all that there is large scale apostasy. People are falling away from the faith. The Church barely exists in Europe. It is dying in the States. Evil priests abuse children. Lying pastors scratch the itchy ears of the few parishioners who are left. Supposed scientists give what they claim is incontrovertible “proof” of all sorts of things which seem to disprove many of the Bible’s claims and its history.
The end is upon us. We’d have to be blind not to see it. And it does not take a prophet to see that it is getting worse. But the point is not so much that we interpret the signs, which have been with us at least since the fall of Jerusalem, but rather that we would believe God’s Word and repent.
The world is going to Hell in a handbasket but do not overlook this one fact, beloved. With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. He is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness. He is patient. He does not wish that any should perish. He desires that all should reach repentance. He delays His return for this purpose. So repent.
The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will pass away with a roar. The heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved. Then the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed and you will be revealed as the sons of God, unless you are revealed as goats and hypocrites. So repent and prepare. Don’t be a hypocrite. Trust Christ. Believe His Word. Turn from your sins, from your grudges and pride, from your dark lusts. Receive His Sacrament in faith for the forgiveness of sins.
He is risen from the dead. He is ascended to His Father’s right hand. But He is not gone. For a little while He was made to be lower than the angels, to suffer all that our sins deserve, to be betrayed, mocked, and forsaken, but no more. Now that is done, finished and perfected. The Father has crowned him with glory and honor. He has put everything in subjection under Christ’s feet. He is Lord, Yahweh, King-Messiah, Bridegroom of the Church and Prince of Peace. Everything is subjected to Him who laid down His life as a ransom and peace offering. Everything is subjected to Him who was subjected to the accusations of the Law and the demands of Justice and His Father’s wrath in our stead. Now nothing, not even school shootings and abortion and climate change, are outside of His control. And yet, at present, we do not see everything in subjection to Him or even see Him with our eyes. We see the signs of the end. They are terrible. But we also ee bread and wine, the poor saints struggling in this life, water and a book. And we believe that what He says about those things and Himself in them is real, that they are subject to Him, that the laws of creation don’t apply.
We live by faith. We believe what we cannot see. We believe what we hear, what He says. We believe that Christ reigns at His Father’s right hand for us. He is our Advocate and Mediator, our Savior and Champion. We know that these are evil days, but we also know that our sorrows correlate with Christ’s own prophecies. He is mindful of us and has told the turth. He will cut these days short for our sake. This He will do when all of the elect have been sealed in the waters of Holy Baptism. Then He will come in glory and judgement. That judgment will be for us not against us. For now He comes in mercy, hidden in common things according to His promise. He is still Emmanuel. He will not forsake us. He is with us and He rules us by His grace for mercy’s sake. We call Him Lord not because He threatens us or can overpower us but because He loves us and we love Him. We see the signs of the end and we repent. We lift up our heads and rejoice because our redemption draws near.
Christ will take us out of the mess we have made of our lives. He will take us out of politics and jockeying for positions, of disappoints and grudges, or never being satisfied and being angry all the time. He hears our prayers and He answers.
And ending all of it, ending time and the world, is the only solution. We should certainly work toward alleviating suffering and injustices. We should also work on ourselves, curbing our flesh, taking up disciplines for our bodies and souls. We should set our minds and wills away from sin, according to God’s Law, and for the benefit of our neighbors. We should engage in acts of mercy, including evangelism and catechesis. We should proclaim the true presence of Christ in Word and Sacrament. He speaks in His Word and changes the hearts of me. He forgives and gives the Holy Spirit in the Absolution cleansing the souls of men. He gives Himself in the Sacrament of the Altar to join men to Himself and strengthen their faith and He adopts as His own children those who are baptized into His Name. We should tell the world where He truly is and promises to be. So also we should teach God’s Holy Law so that people can find satisfaction and fulfillment in their vocations and know the difference between right and wrong.
At the same time, we know that we aren’t going to fix anything. It can’t be fixed. The world is very evil. Our mercy work, even our evangelism and catechesis, will not transform society or create a utopia. It is simply meant to serve our neighbors and do some small good. And for those who hear and believe, those who work against temptation and are encouraged in their faith, it is no small good. It is the greatest good. But the fix we all need, long term, the fix the homeless need, the oppressed need, and all of the elect need is the Judgment of the Last Day. Then the earth and its works will be exposed. The victims, the meek, the quiet in the land, will be vindicated and those who trust in Christ will be revealed as the sons of God bought by blood and saved by grace.
This bring us to the strange phrase at the very end of the Gospel reading for today. The ESV translates it as “wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” The word for the bird in question is most naturally “eagle” not “vulture.” The ESV only chose “vulture” because of the context. Matthew used the word “corpse” or “dead body” and eagles don’t eat dead flesh. Vultures do. But there is a parallel passage in Job 39. There God says that the eagle spies his prey from afar and “where the slain are, there is he.”
If this phrase is a Hebrew proverb about vultures showing up to pick at dead bodies then it means something like “where there is smoke there is fire.” In other words, Jesus says this here to simply demonstrate that the signs of the end will be obvious, like lightening. Even so, there is some nuance. If that is the point, then in addition to being obvious, Christ is also telling us that it will be horrible, like vultures picking at dead bodies.
But I don’t think that is the full meaning. I think the point is more profound and that it is a promise. He means that the saints will gather around the cross like eagles. Already now, in the midst of the chaos of the end, in evil days, despite the fact and because of the fact that we can’t fix things, we gather where the Body of Jesus is given to and for us. We are drawn to Him as He is lifted up in His Passion and in the Holy Communion. As it is now, so it will be on the last day. We, who trust in the Lord, shall renew our strength. We shall mount up with wings like eagles. We shall run and not be weary. We shall walk and not faint. “Wherever the Body is, there the eagles will gather.”
The point is not only that the signs with be both obvious and terrible. He already made those points. The point is also that Christ is and will be with us through it all in His Body given for us. He will continue to gather us to Himself, and by the merits of His Sacrifice for us on the cross and His giving of His Body to us in the Holy Communion, we will meet Him in air on the Last Day even as we meet Him now at the altar.
So it is that He causes us to see Him according to that offering, according to His Sacrifice, the great cosmic event that shook creation and changed our fate. We are not fooled by the false christs who boast in earthly power or proofs. We do not go seeking Him where they direct: in our own minds or feelings of ecstasy or in fossils and carbon dating. He gathers us about His Body. He seeks us. He points to His scars, to the glory of His cross. There, in His Body, He gives us the strength we need to face what we must, the faith to believe His Word and promises, and teaches us to pray ever more fervently, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
Wherever the Body is, there the eagles will gather.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.