If you have been around an Anglican Church for a while there is one part of the liturgy you know by heart:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.
I want to talk to you about the phrase “World without End”. You should know that this phrase comes from the Bible. It is found in Ephesians 3 KJV:
Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
World without End. I would like to compare these words to other parts of the Bible. I would like to hold up these words to what we know about God’s creation. Is this world really without End?
I would like to think so. I would like to believe that this beautiful world that God created will never end. The Grand Canyon, the Iguazu falls, The Rocky Mountains, the Amazon River, the great plains, the crashing waves of the seven seas. I would like to believe these will be here forever.
World without End.
The smartest man of the 20th century believed that things would remain as they always had been world without end. Before 1931, Albert Einstein believed like most of us who were raised in that era, that the universe was static. What you see in the night sky is the way things will be a million years from now.
In 1931 Edwin Hubble, the great astronomer, invited Einstein to the Mount Wilson Observatory in California. He could see with his own eyes what Hubble had discovered two years earlier. The universe is not static; it is expanding. It is expanding at an incredible speed. The implication is that the universe is cooling off and dying out, fading away. On top of that we know that every living thing dies. Someday it will all be gone.
Small wonder one leading atheist physicist said that the more he understood the universe, the more it seemed to him to be pointless.
Well, what does the Bible say? The best-known text on this subject is 2 Peter 3:10
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up, the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat.
So much for ‘World without End’. At least that is the way it seems at first glance. Dr. John Polkinghorne has written an excellent book entitled “The God of Hope and the End of the World”. John Polkinghorne is a leading Quantum Physicist who in midlife felt the call of God to leave science and become an Anglican priest. It is from that vantage point that he writes his books.
How does a Christian have hope faced with the fact that every single living thing on earth dies? How does a Christian have hope in a universe that is slowly fading away? How does a Christian have hope when we read 2 Peter 3?
The reason why Christians have hope – the only reason – is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the great turning point of the Universe. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the reason why we can say World without End.
After the Resurrection Jesus showed himself alive by many infallible proofs. Our risen Lord was no resuscitated corpse. His body was both different and yet familiar at the same time. His body had new properties as well as the nail prints in his hands. He can appear and disappear at will, yet he can eat. He can walk through walls, yet he was seen walking along the shores of Galilee. He has the power of an endless life. He will never die. His new body is made of physical properties and yet they do not decay.
And friends, that same Spirit that brought Christ from the dead shall also quicken our mortal bodies. Those that are in the grave shall hear his voice and we shall come forth; flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God, but we shall be given a body like unto the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the meek shall inherit the earth.
And friends, what’s more, the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just about us. Our text in Romans 8 and in Colossians 1 make it clear that what happened on the cross and in the empty tomb is cosmic redemption. God has always had a grand plan for the whole Universe: a new body; a new heaven and earth all created in a new way – not new stuff but put together in a new way. Same elections but arranged in a different way.
It’s like table salt. We use it all the time. It’s essential for life used in moderate amounts. Most of you know that table salt is made of two elements: sodium and chlorine – both are deadly poisons. Yet, together they are harmless. And God at the end of time is going to remix the elements of the universe so that what has been harmful will bring forth life.
What we read about in 2 Peter is not the end of the world. It is the reconstruction of the universe, a universe that will never wear out or fade away. Never wear out or fade away! No more throw away culture! We read in Deuteronomy 8:4 the clothing of the people of God did not wear out for forty years. Friends, that is a glimpse into the next life. In Exodus 3 we read about Moses and the burning bush. The bush was on fire, but it was not destroyed. This is a glimpse into the next world.
Yes, it is the restoration of all things that Peter peached about on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.
The restoration of all things. I love that term. It is so wonderful. So hopeful. Restoration in the Bible means not like if you drop an iPhone and it break into a hundred pieces you go and get the exact same one and carry on. No, no. Restoration in the Bible means that if you had an iPhone 8 and you lost it or dropped it you replace it with an iPhone 11. Similar but much, much better.
The restoration of all things. Similar body, but much, much better. Similar earth, but much, much better, Similar sun and stars but much, much better. The great wonders of our planet: the mountains, the falls, the oceans, similar but much, much better.
And what about fluffy and Spot? What about our pets? What about the vast array of creatures? Almost every picture we have of the next life in the Bible there are animals running around. Only in heaven they are not eating one another. And we are not eating them. And they are not eating us. The lion and the lamb shall lie down together and there shall be peace in the valley. There is nothing that we have loved and lost that will not be restored.
World without End.
Our lectionary reading from Romans 8 says that all creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. Creation waits with eager longing… to the day when it will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the sons of God.
Groaning – earthquakes, pandemics, racism, cancer, pollution, prey and praetor cycle, old age and death cycle. The whole creation groans.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son:
and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be:
world without end. Amen.