Sunday, May 16, 2010

Coming Soon

Coming Soon

© copyright 2010 Robert J. Elder

Seventh Sunday of Easter , May 16, 2010

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

See, I am coming soon...

Amen, come Lord Jesus!

Our Scripture lesson today is brief enough as it is, but even in the space of these few verses, we find one word that is repeated, in one form or another, more than any other:

“See, I am coming soon...”

“The Spirit and the bride [the church] say, ‘Come.’”

“Let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’”

“Let everyone who is thirsty come.”

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

It sounds to me as though John believed something important is coming, even if we aren’t quite sure what it is! The invitation, the claim, the image of something coming, something on its way, is inescapable.

Some people have said that the phrase at the end of our reading is one of the earliest Christian prayers: “Come, Lord Jesus!” Paul thought it was such an important prayer that when he ended his first letter to the Corinthians with it, he even preserved it in its original Aramaic language, writing, “Marana-tha!”

Clearly, in his vision, John believed that something important was on its way, and that the appropriate response from believers was to welcome what was coming, even to encourage it, to pray for it. But I have to ask myself, if this early Christian prayer was so important, what has become of it? When I am in prayer with others, I rarely hear those exact words spoken: “Come, Lord Jesus.” Oh, it’s part of the Lord’s prayer, of course, the part that says, “Thy kingdom come..,” but how often do we really emphasize that intention behind the Lord’s Prayer? What’s the problem? As believers, have we given up on the idea that Jesus is coming, that his kingdom is being established in the world? Or are we just so unsure how he will bring it off we simply prefer not to think about it?

I can think of two ways to ponder Jesus’ promise that he is coming and the ancient church’s prayer that he will.


“Just wait ‘til your father comes home!” When my imaginary 7-year-old children’s sermon friend, Clayton, hears that, he does not begin to rejoice in anticipation of the arrival of the one who is to come! This word of Revelation can be a word of judgment. The phrase “I am coming soon!” can be heard as a threat under many circumstances. We might not mind this little passage so much if it just said, “I am coming soon,” and left off that part about coming “to repay according to everyone’s work.” That makes us nervous. That’s the threat. This little passage contains words of judgment as well as words of salvation. Is Jesus coming to judge or save, or is Jesus coming to judge and save? It makes a big difference. Which do we believe?

What if he is coming to judge or save, to divide us into one of two categories, the judged and the saved, the condemned and the rescued? What if my good works aren’t judged to be enough? What if my bad works are judged to be more than plenty? What then? Never mind the sins for which I have asked forgiveness, what if I have forgotten to confess some? And what about those sins that are logs in my eye, but which I haven’t really even noticed because I have been working so hard to help point out the specks in the eyes of others? What about the long-forgotten transgression, the casual gossip? There’s a lot of my work for which I hope not to be repaid! If Jesus is coming to judge or save, I could be in pretty bad shape. Could judgment be coming my way, while saving waits for someone more deserving?

Jesus coming soon? We’ve accommodated ourselves to the world as it is pretty well, thank you, so please, no great shocks, no dramatic intrusions by heavenly messengers, no opening skies and trumpets of angels and the Lamb of God descending to earth on a cloud. Our poor old world of warfare and riots and thieving and careless injustice and cruelty may not be perfect, but at least we know what to expect. We also have something to eat, and a place to sleep, just like those slaves in Egypt before the coming of God’s word to them in the form of a stuttering Moses. Please, don’t rock the boat! Shall we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus”? What if he came to judge rather than to save, what then?


“Coming soon to a theater near you.” “Coming to America.” “Hold on, I’m coming.” “I am coming soon,” can also be heard as a promise, a hope-filled pledge. Have I spent my life trying to measure up to standards which I am beginning to realize I will never meet? Have I begun to despair of ever understanding the answers to the big “why?” questions? Does the purpose for my own existence seem increasingly unclear, does life seem senseless?

“I am coming soon,” says Jesus.

The 911 operator takes the call from a distraught mother. Her baby has just been fished out of the backyard swimming pool, but he’s not breathing. If the Emergency people take any time at all to come it will be too much time. Patiently, the operator tells the mother what to do to help get the baby some air while the medics are on the way, racing through city traffic. “Please hurry!” screams the mother. “Just keep trying,” says the operator, “we’re coming.” Why was the baby left unattended? Why did we build that pool anyway? Why was that door left unlatched? Plenty of time later for judging. Time now for saving.

Revelation declares that Jesus comes to judge and to save, to demand repentance and provide healing, to say to anyone who is thirsty for righteousness, “Come,” and “take the water of life as a gift.”

The very coming of the One who is perfect judges our imperfection, yet not in order to destroy, but so that we can be made perfect, we can be made whole, we can be healed.

Reality and Hope

The word for all those who must face the future, which is all of us, is that whatever future it is, it is a future in which Jesus will be present in the world which he has claimed. He is coming because he has already come.

How should I live my life? What career should I choose? Should I go on for more schooling, or get a job? What lies ahead for me?

Revelation asks a question in return. John asks, “How will you choose to live your life since you know Jesus is coming?” What do you want to commit your life to doing in light of the fact that Christ is coming soon? How does the promise of a future filled with the love of God for the world change what you believe he is calling you to do today?

Of course Jesus’ coming is a threat. It threatens at the very deepest level the very idea that we can live our lives for ourselves alone. It threatens and judges all those past decisions on which we are tempted to build our lives. Jesus’ promise to come soon judges our past.

But of course Jesus’ coming is a promise, too. The world could certainly stand some improving. Jesus’ promise to come soon certainly gives us at least some hope of a better future.

But what difference does it make for us today that Jesus died to save us? Any difference? And knowing that he has not washed his hands of us, but has plans for us, how does that alter our thinking, our hoping, our dreaming? Has the Messiah come? Is the Messiah coming? John answers both questions with a resounding yes, but not without declaring that something important is going on in the present.

Has the Messiah come? Yes. History. One named Jesus came, centuries ago, and the world has never been the same because of what he did. Past tense. Recorded. Entered in the book. Codified. Over.

Is the Messiah coming? Yes. Just as surely as it declares that the Messiah has come, the Bible claims that he will come again, “that I may receive you to myself,” as John’s gospel puts it.[1] That is the future. Coming, on its way, just wait — but for who knows how long?

What, then, of the present? I think the present is changed, moment by moment, because Jesus declared to John, “See, I am coming soon.” Soon. That little word changes everything. The presence of Christ is not only historic, not only promised for some remote future in heaven, but just ahead, just over the next rise, just around the bend, as close as your next breath. He can come to us that soon, and all he awaits is our invitation. We can offer it.

“Amen. Come Lord Jesus.” Say it with me, as a responsive prayer:

Amen. Come Lord Jesus...

To triumph over our pain and to glory in our praise...

Amen. Come Lord Jesus...

To set us free to serve, to cut the knot of self-interest that binds our hearts and hands...

Amen. Come Lord Jesus...

To declare victory over life as well as victory over death...

Amen. Come Lord Jesus...

To rejoice the hearts of the grieving, to give courage to the fearful...

Amen. Come Lord Jesus...




Copyright © 2010 Robert J. Elder, all rights reserved

[1] John 14:3.