Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while.
Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
My soul is longing and yearning,
is yearning for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my soul ring out their joy
to God, the living God. (R./)
The sparrow herself finds a home
and the swallow a nest for her brood;
she lays her young by your altars,
Lord of hosts, my king and my God. (R./)
They are happy, who dwell in your house,
for ever singing your praise.
They are happy, whose strength is in you.
They walk with ever growing strength. (R./)
Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
The apocalyptic book of Revelation was written for Christians who were dumbfounded by persecution under the Roman empire and the church felt hounded on all sides. The inspired text foretold the collapse of the tyrannical empire, leading to a period of peace and harmony. After that will come the second appearance of Christ, the new heavens and the new earth, the new holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
Today's gospel offers a much plainer image for something new about to happen. From the example of the budding fig tree we know that summer is near. So "when you see all the things happening, know that the reign of God is near." Both readings offer signs whose meaning is not immediately clear, and we ask the Lord to show what these signs mean for us, here and now.
The fig tree is in full bloom and the harvest is near, yet it may not seem obvious at all to us. We have to live in the real world of today. How shall we make sense of the apocalyptic prophecies? Maybe by praying to know the message beneath the surface of those texts. As part of the word of God, they anticipate future, when heaven and earth will be made new. Wonderfully, our world will be transformed into the City of God, like a lovely bride going to meet her husband.
We live in a world of flux, of rapid and bewildering change, changes in society, changes in the church, miracles and menaces of digital wizardry. Many people find change disconcerting and unsettling. In the midst of such challenging change we need some kind of spiritual anchor, some solid truths that can be trusted. We find change easier to manage if at least some things remain the same.
Jesus told us to expect change, not just gradual change as in the seasons of the year, but change on a cosmic scale, hugely significant change. He talks of heaven and earth passing away, the most radical change of all. Then he promises that something will never change. "My words will never pass away." Throughout all of life the word of the Lord remains a constant, because God is faithful. In the midst of flux the Lord abides; when all else is whirling, our connection with God, our trust in him, keeps us steady and on course to meet God face to face.