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  • Writer's pictureFather Benjamin von Bredow

The end is near.

A Sermon for the Sunday after Ascension

May 12, 2024 at Holy Communion

1 Peter 4:7–11


“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded” (1 Peter 4:7). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.


Sometimes I think it would do us good to hear the words of the Bible the way that atheists do. A real skeptic never lets the Bible get away with saying something ridiculous, but pounces on things that look like errors—and to do that, they have to be really listening. But Christians can hear the Bible say a thousand things they don’t understand and won’t bat an eye, satisfied that, if we haven’t understood the Bible, at least we believe it.


Unfortunately, such a faith does us very little good. If our faith were genuine, it would not be placed in the Bible at all, but in the Great Teacher who breathed out the scripture so that we could learn from it (2 Timothy 3:16). Any teacher will know that the best students are the ones who ask questions, not the ones who smile and nod. Those students learn and grow.


I say this because our Epistle opens with one of those Bible ideas that any good atheist would pounce on, but most Christians would politely ignore: “The end of all things is at hand,” says St Peter (1 Peter 4:7). “Aha!” says the atheist. “Your religion is an ancient end-of-the-world cult that failed.” What does the Christian say? To the atheist, the Christian probably says nothing: it does no good to speak mysteries to those do not have ears to hear. But to before our God we become like children again and say, “Father, I don’t understand. Please show me what you mean.”


In the Bible, the word “end” doesn’t mean, “The point after which something stops,” like “the end of the road” or “the end of a movie.” It’s more like the old-fashioned way of asking someone why they want to do something: we might ask, “To what end?” meaning, “For what purpose?” Something’s “end” is its fulfillment, the point at which it realizes its purpose. So when we read that “the end of all things is at hand,” we should hear not, “The world will soon be no more,” but quite the opposite, “The fulfillment of all things is at hand.”


And to strengthen the point, the original Greek for “is at hand” more literally means that the fulfillment of things “has (already) drawn near.” It is not coming, even very soon, but, like an expected guest whom you see pulling up in the driveway, it has already arrived. It means, “Now.” “The fulfillment of all things is here.”


And if that’s what “the end is near” means, then what follows in what we heard from 1 Peter makes more sense: “The end of all things is at hand. Therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality …” and so on (1 Peter 4:7–9). Peter is telling us, “Now is the time! Don’t wait to pray, don’t wait to love, don’t wait to show hospitality. Even now human beings are entering into this fulfillment which God desires for them. Enter the kingdom now. Today is your day of grace.”


As Saint Paul put it, quoting the prophets, “Now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (1 Corinthians 6:2). Your salvation was not yesterday, when you first prayed a sincere prayer; nor is your salvation tomorrow, when you will perform the good you resolve today. Your salvation is now, as you yield up your Spirit to the one who made you, and so come to the end for which you were created.


The fulfillment has drawn near because the fulfillment of all things is none of than Jesus Christ himself. He is the “First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13), who is with his church now and to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He “fills all in all,” and as his body we are the “fulness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). As we come to fulfillment in Christ, Christ himself comes to the fulfillment which he realizes in us, and he offers himself and ourselves to his Father.


This is the Sunday after the Ascension, when Jesus was taken up into heaven. The Ascension is particularly rich for reflecting on what it means to come to our God-appointed fulfillment. “Now I return to him who sent me,” Jesus says (John 16:5). The Ascension is a story of returning, perfecting, completing, ending. Jesus Christ, having finished everything that his Father desired for him, returns to the Father to rest from his works and enjoy the fulfillment of his eternal sonship (Hebrews 5:8). Jesus comes from God, and by living in the will of God returns to God once again.


For us, the Ascension is neither a historical curiosity nor a historical embarrassment—we’re not here to celebrate the past, but to live in eternity in the present. Instead, the Ascension is an invitation. Jesus, the “captain of our salvation,” came to his fulfillment in God because he did the will of his Father (Hebrews 2:10). Fulfillment in God is to do will of the Father, and the Father himself is fulfillment. Today is the day of salvation for anyone who prays that God will send his Spirit to help us do his will, as Jesus taught in our Gospel reading.


If we understand that the fulfillment of all things is near, and we are willing to embrace that fulfillment, then the will of God for us is what we have already heard from St Peter: “Therefore … keep loving one another earnestly. … Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another … in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:7–11)

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