Bible never disappoints as it deals with a multitude of endings
Most every piece of literature ever written begins with an implied promise. By its very nature, it assures you it will come to an ending.
There are some notable exceptions, but those are spoken of with disappointment or downright ridicule. So when readers take up the Bible, they would naturally expect to come to a conclusion that not only pleases but also teaches us what life is about. And, in fact, they are neither disappointed nor drawn to ridicule by the Sacred Scriptures. There actually are a multitude of endings, all of which have an inspiring message. Each of them has a different idea of what constitutes the end.
We have this month, thanks to a holy day of obligation, five Masses that have to do with the end or the beginning of something. We have the Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and two Sundays at the very end of the Easter season. You’d expect then that there are 15 readings to consider. However, three of the opportunities for readings offer a choice. Unable to choose against any reading, I have decided to include them all. I invite you to briefly look at 18 Scripture readings, all of which pertain to an ending. A few refer to the end of the world; but, amazingly, many consider living in our post-resurrection age as the end times. Some of the readings compromise with wonderful insights. Let’s begin.
Taking a look at the first readings of all the Sundays in May, four of the five are taken from the Acts of the Apostles. The other one is the only reading from the Old Testament in the entire month. It is from Proverbs and is a great place to start. It considers the creation of the world, making the point that the wisdom of God was active. This reading is meant to illustrate, on Trinity Sunday, the Holy Spirit’s role in creation and in dealing with humans. Yet, it also presents a view of God in heaven and the Holy Spirit’s love for humanity. The point is man was made to be with God in heaven. That is about as far as the Old Testament can take us.
Coming back to the first Sunday of May, we now can look at the first of four excerpts from the Acts of the Apostles. All four of them depict the result of Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection, ascension and the Holy Spirit’s descent to be the establishment of the Church. Of course, the Church’s main objective is to proclaim eternal life.
The 15th chapter of Acts celebrates the solving of the first major problem to face the Church, namely whether pagan converts should become Jewish first and then be baptized. The great joy is that the argument was over. Perhaps couples can relate to it when they remember their first spat and how disillusioning it was until they found out they could get through it. Kissing and making up meant a lot. Luke is presenting in this passage the notion that through reconciliation the Church can experience one of the true joys of heaven here on earth. That’s a pretty good ending. However, there are many more to come.
On the Feast of the Ascension, we look at the first chapter of Acts. Right at the outset it tackles the question why Jesus did what he did for us. The last question the disciples asked the Lord as he was about to ascend to heaven was, “are…you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” His answer starts out, “It is not for you to know.” Then Jesus does tell them “you will be my witnesses.” Jesus gifted the world with people who will give witness of the presence of God among us. That could be a good ending to the Bible.
Then we skip to the story of Pentecost. Luke gives us another parting idea to consider. In the second chapter of Acts, we read that the entire Church was together in one room when the Holy Spirit came upon them. All were filled with the Spirit. Just outside, there were people from virtually every country of the world. When they heard Peter speak, they all became one in that each person heard in his own language. The whole world becoming one in the risen Christ would make an excellent ending to the Bible as well.
The last of the first readings is taken from chapter seven of Acts. It depicts the death of the first martyr. As he was dying, Stephen said he saw the heavens open and his last words included, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” What a powerful ending to the Scriptures that would make!
We now move to the second readings of the Sundays and feasts of May. Those used on the sixth and seventh Sunday of Easter are taken from Revelation. The others are from Paul’s Epistles. Let’s start with the Book of Revelation.
Chapter 21 of Revelation is the second reading for May 5. It describes the New Jerusalem. There is Light, but there is no sun or moon or any natural cause. That hearkens back to the creation narrative in Genesis. God’s first creation was light. He did not create the sun, moon, and stars until the fourth day. Nor was there a temple in the New Jerusalem. Both light and temple are connected when John tells us, “The Glory of God gave it light.” This would be a great ending as it connects Genesis 1 with Revelation 21, the first and last words of the Bible.
Speaking of first and last, that is the message we receive on the seventh Sunday of Easter. The risen and exalted Christ proclaims himself the Alpha and the Omega, saying “I am coming soon.” That also would make a great ending, telling us our mission now is to prepare for the second coming of the Lord.
On the Feast of the Ascension, the Church gives us a choice between two readings. One is from Hebrews. The passage ends with “Christ [who] offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.” How appropriate an ending is that as it describes the attitude we should have and what the Lord will be doing when he comes again. It is truly the end.
Ephesians 1:17-23 is the other choice for the Ascension. There, Paul, as he does at the beginning of all his letters, offers a blessing. This one also could be a great ending. “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.” It goes on to mention the dominion of Christ, “who fills all things in every way.” This “ending” presents the glory of being a Christian and the Lordship of Christ.
Pentecost also has a choice of second readings. The first is from the 12th chapter of First Corinthians. There we read, “In the Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and we were given to drink of one Spirit.” The beauty of this possible ending to the Scriptures is that it tells us exactly where the Scriptures leave off and where we find ourselves.
The other choice for Pentecost is from the chapter considered one of Paul’s two greatest. It is Romans, chapter eight. One of the deepest sentences ever written is contained in it. “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead is alive in you, the one who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” As an ending, this finely designed sentence tells us the bottom line. The Spirit is, indeed, alive in us and therefore we can rejoice knowing our bodies will be raised up.
The last of the second readings of May comes on Trinity Sunday. Appropriately, it is from the other candidate to be considered Paul’s greatest chapter, namely Romans, chapter five. (What happened to 1 Corinthians 13?) Here, Paul writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He goes on to write that this peace comes from the grace we have received. This grace allows us to boast in our afflictions and gives us hope. Hope would be a most appropriate way to conclude the Bible.
Of the five Gospels for May, four of them are from the Gospel of John. The other one is from the 24th chapter of Luke. It is the narrative of the Ascension. In fact, these are the very last words of Luke’s Gospel. After Jesus ascended, Luke reports, “They [the disciples] did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.” That does describe what is left after Christ’s ascension. We should be people with great joy who continually praise God. Luke chose his last words well.
On May 6 the Gospel is from the 14th chapter of John, which is the beginning of what is called the “Last Discourse” of Jesus at the Last Supper. It is Jesus’ final instruction. He tells us of his Father’s love for us; he promises to send the Spirit; and he gives his peace. At the end, he encourages us to believe. He starts with love and concludes with faith. It’s an ending that sets up our way to live the Christian life.
A passage from the same chapter is a choice for the feast of Pentecost. In this section, Jesus promises to send the advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will teach us everything. John places this message in the context of Jesus’ teaching on God’s abiding love for us. Hence, we have a good ending here since we are told that God’s love and presence will remain with us forever.
The Seventh Sunday of Easter takes its Gospel from John 17, which consists of Jesus’ priestly prayer to the Father at the Last Supper. It begins, “Father, I pray for them [the disciples]…but also for those who will believe in me through them.” And then he prays that they may be one and that the world would believe that the Father sent Him. He wants the love that the Father loves Him with to be in us. Here he starts with faith and concludes with love. It works both ways.
Pentecost offers a second choice. This is from John, chapter 20. The scene is again the upper room, but this time on Easter evening when the Risen Lord offers his disciples peace, breathes on them the Holy Spirit and tells them to forgive sins. Again, we have a great place to end the Scriptures with the conferral of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and reconciliation. Before his death and resurrection, he had gifted them with the Eucharist and Holy Orders.
The last reading is the Gospel for Trinity Sunday, John 16:12-15. We’re back at the Last Supper. Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit and he also promises that the Father will bestow on us all that he has given to the Son. There is a Trinitarian conclusion that would work well.
So, finally, we have 18 possible endings. Why don’t you go over them again to determine which one you would choose to sum up our faith? No matter which you select, you’ll have experienced some precious meditation and brought to a synthesis a number of articles of Christian doctrine. Enjoy!
Sunday, May 5: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29
Monday, May 6: Acts 16:11-15; Psalm 149:1-6, 9; John 15:26–16:4
Tuesday, May 7: Acts 16:22-34; Psalm 138:1-3, 7-8; John 16:5-11
Wednesday, May 8: Acts 17:15 and 17:22–18:1; Psalm 148:1-2, 11-14; John 16:12-15
Thursday, May 9: Acts 18:1-8; Psalm 98:1-4; John 16:16-20
Friday, May 10: Acts 18:9-18; Psalm 47:2-7; John 16:20-23
Saturday, May 11: Acts 18:23-28; Psalm 47:2-3, 8-10; John 16:23-28
Sunday, May 12: Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47:2-3, 6-9; Ephesians 1:17-23; Luke 24:46-53
Monday, May 13: Acts 19:1-8; Psalm 68:2-7; John 16:29-33
Tuesday, May 14: Feast, St. Matthias, apostle, Acts 1:15-17, 20-26; Psalm 113:1-8; John 15:9-17
Wednesday, May 15: Acts 20:28-38; Psalm 68:29-30, 33-36; John 17:11-19
Thursday, May 16: Acts 22:30 and 23:6-11; Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11; John 17:20-26
Friday, May 17: Acts 25:13-21; Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20; John 21:15-19
Saturday, May 18: Acts 28:16-20, 30-31; Psalm 11:4-5, 7; John 21:20-25; vigil Mass of Pentecost, Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 104:1-2, 24, 35, 27-30; Romans 8:22-27; John 7:37-39
Sunday, May 19: Solemnity, Pentecost Sunday, Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-31, 34; 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
Monday, May 20: Sirach 1:1-10; Psalm 93:1-2, 5; Mark 9:14-29
Tuesday, May 21: Sirach 2:1-11; Psalm 37:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40; Mark 9:30-37
Wednesday, May 22: Sirach 4:11-19; Psalm 119:165, 168, 171-172, 174-175; Mark 9:38-40
Thursday, May 23: Sirach 5:1-8; Psalm 1:1-4, 6; Mark 9:41-50
Friday, May 24: Sirach 6:5-17; Psalm 119:12, 16, 18, 27, 34-35; Mark 10:1-12
Saturday, May 25: Sirach 17:1-15; Psalm 103:13-18; Mark 10:13-16
Sunday, May 26: Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8:4-9; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
Monday, May 27: Sirach 17:20-24; Psalm 32:1-2, 5-7; Mark 10:17-27
Tuesday, May 28: Sirach 35:1-12; Psalm 50:5-8, 14, 23; Mark 10:28-31
Wednesday, May 29: Sirach 36:1, 4-5, 10-17; Psalm 79:8-9, 11, 13; Mark 10:32-45
Thursday, May 30: Sirach 42:15-25; Psalm 33:2-9; Mark 10:46-52
Friday, May 31: Feast, the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Zephaniah 3:14-18; Isaiah 12:2-6; Luke 1:39-56
Saturday, June 1: Memorial, St. Justin, martyr, Sirach 51:12-20; Psalm 19:8-11; Mark 11:27-33
Father Brando is pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg.