A good thing to bear in mind as we tackle this passage with its futuristic tone is that apocalyptic or no apocalyptic, Jesus always expects us to live in the present! A Son of Man coming from heaven to rescue us may be an appealing thought, but there can be no such One without his alter-ego, the Very Much Earthed Son of Man, alive by his Spirit in the person of us, his Body today. And we always live 'under judgment', as our spiritual forbears have always had to do.
What kinds of things, what 'signs' distress us, confuse us, roar at us, make us 'faint from fear & fore- boding' today? What are the forces that threaten not just the world but our world? No doubt one of the benefits of gathering as church is to enjoy some respite from their insistence. There's nothing at all wrong with withdrawing from the fray, regrouping, to recuperate! What's more, we can take that 'peace of God that passes all understanding' back home with us in our hearts & minds. But out there where we live, there's no escaping the many & varied signs that don't take time off from threatening & oppressing us. Which ones would be on our list as 'close up & personal'?
In the midst of any & all of them, Jesus still says we can stand up & hold our heads high because our redemption is near. (What does 'redemption' actually mean in all our circumstances, not just our spiritual dimensions, today? We may need to tease that out a bit.) Whatever it means, Jesus himself is the Sign of our redemption. The Sign of God's eternal stabilitas in the midst of a world of in-stability. The One who makes our own stabilitas possible despite anything & everything anybody & everybody can muster against us.
Jesus' comment about the fig tree & seasons is a timely reminder of our own inter-connectedness with everything else that is. There are 'signs' to be read here too.
Today's cosmologists put up fascinating & compelling scenarios (scarey, too!) for the way things may one day end. In a frontispiece to his 'God & the New Physics' (reprinted in Penguin, '90) Paul Davies quotes Einstein's saying: 'Religion without science is blind. Science without religion is lame.' Those of us who preach do well to take that on board, and with it the 'signs' such physicists read in those same skies Jesus talks of. In their own way cosmologists are making their own contribution to our God stories. Is it stretching imagination too far to wonder if one day, Thanksgiving 4 of the Second Order of the Eucharist from the Australian Prayer Book might extend to something like: 'Therefore with angels & archangels, with apostles & prophets, with holy men & women of every age, with chemists, cosmologists, physicists, .........we proclaim your great & glorious name'? Might the compartments 'religious' people put each other & others into, not to mention, e.g. the scientific community, be part of those very forces shaking apart, shaking down, shaking up, our world?