There Will Be No Other End of the World

This past Sunday I preached on the End and judgment. The text was James 5:7-13.

Despite what we’ve heard about the End over the last 80 years, there are really only two points about it Christians have largely agreed on and believed over the centuries. One, that there is an end (as opposed to an endless cycle of time, like nature), and two, that there is a judgment.

The judgment is either welcome or terrifying, depending on how you lived. For James’s congregation it was welcome. When you live your life treated unfairly, you look forward to a time when things are set right.

Monday is my day off. I was home yesterday pruning my tomatoes when I remembered, as I do every year at this time, Czeslaw Milosz’s poem “A Song on the End of the World.” He wrote it in Warsaw, at the end of the war.

On the day the world ends

A bee circles a clover,

A fisherman mends a glimmering net.

Happy porpoises jump in the sea,

By the rainspout young sparrows are playing

And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends

Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,

A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,

Vegetable peddlers shout in the street

And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,

The voice of a violin lasts in the air

And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder

Are disappointed.

And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps

Do not believe it is happening now.

As long as the sun and the moon are above,

As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,

As long as rosy infants are born

No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet

Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,

Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:

There will be no other end of the world,

There will be no other end of the world.

Of course, a lot of people were announcing the end of the world during and after the war. And there were plenty of world-be prophets making dire pronouncements and riding on a wave of fear. I love this poem because it reminds me that the final judgment will not obliterate the good. It’s the other way around. All that is good now — rosy infants and bumblebees — form the basis of what we will be upheld and preserved and restored in the final judgment. In a way, the good that is with us now, in the present, already judges us.

Tend the good. Bind your tomato plants. There will be no other end of the world.

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