The Last Deadline
The Last Deadline

The Last Deadline

Fifth Sunday of Lent. Fr Robert Verrill preaches on the meaning of Christ’s ‘Hour’.

Before entering the Dominican Order, I worked as a software engineer for several years. The life of a Dominican friar is of course very different from the life of a software engineer. But there is a feature common to both ways of life, namely, working towards deadlines. This feature is particularly noticeable in Dominican life. After all, I can’t keep the people of God waiting for Mass to start because I’m still working on my sermon. When the time comes for Mass to begin, I need to be ready.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples that ‘the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’ However, this is not the first time that Jesus speaks of His hour. The first time is at the Wedding Feast at Cana, when Mary tells Jesus that they have no wine, to which Jesus says ‘Woman, what have you to do with me. My hour has not yet come.’

Sometime later in St John’s Gospel, when Jesus’s disciples urge Him to go to the feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem to display His works, He again alludes to this hour when He replies to them ‘My time has not yet come’. When Jesus eventually goes to the feast, He proclaims in the temple ‘I have not come of My own accord; He who sent Me is true, and Him you do not know. I know Him, for I come from Him, and He sent Me.’ Because of this, we’re told that the authorities wanted to arrest Jesus, but no one laid hands on Him because His hour had not yet come.

Then, on another occasion, Jesus tells the Pharisees within the temple treasury ‘You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.’ But again, Jesus is not arrested because His hour has not yet come.

The Evangelist goes on to recall a couple of occasions in which Jesus narrowly avoids being stoned to death, but by now the Evangelist assumes we’ve got the message – Jesus escapes death because His hour has not yet come. So in all these incidents, there is a gradual buildup of tension as we wait in anticipation for when the hour finally does come. And in today’s Gospel, this is the first time we realize that the hour is upon us – very soon, Jesus is going to die.

This is the one deadline we must all face, the deadline of our own death. Naturally, our death is something we would like to put off for as long as possible, but eventually the hour will come when we won’t be able to put it off any longer.

Although we no longer tend to associate deadlines with death, this was not always the case. The word ‘deadline’ originated during the American Civil War, and it denoted an imaginary line just inside the enclosure of Federal prison camps where guards were instructed to shoot any prisoners who crossed this line. It was only in the decades that followed that the word ‘deadline’ took on its present-day meaning, when newspaper businesses began using this word to refer to the strict time limits needed for a newspaper to be printed and distributed on time whilst still containing the latest news possible. Once the deadline had passed, no more work could be done.

But if we are to think of Jesus’s impending death as a kind of deadline, we must think of it in a very different way to how we think of the deadlines we have to work to in our daily lives. For when Jesus crosses the line between life and death in His Passion, this does not mark a line after which He can do no more work. Rather, it is in crossing this line, that Jesus brings His work to completion. By descending into Hell, He frees all those who would otherwise be subject to eternal death. Now that Jesus has completed His work of redemption, the only people left in Hell are those who would prefer to be there more than to be united with the angels and saints in Heaven.

With only two weeks to go before we celebrate the Easter Triduum, there is no better time in the liturgical year to prepare for Christ’s great work of redemption. One day we are all going to die, but if we die with Christ, then when we come to that final deadline that separates life from death, we will be receptive to all the graces we need to be raised up with Christ, and so share in His glorious resurrection.

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34 | Hebrews 5:7-9 | John 12:20-33

Image: a mediaeval scriptorium, photographed by Manuel (CC BY 2.0 Deed)

fr Robert Verrill is the Prior of Blackfriars, Cambridge, and teaches philosophy at Blackfriars, Oxford.

Comments (4)

  • Jane Caws

    Thank you Father, God bless you. 🙏 🕯🌹🕊❤️

  • Catherine

    A sobering but hopeful and wonderful thing to consider. We don’t know when our own hour will come. Thank you for reminding us, Father Verrill.

  • Joe Turner

    Thank you Father.

  • Antonio Portelli

    Thank you Fr Robert for this interesting Sunday Gospel Reflection. I consider my life here on earth as a “transit” passenger in an airport’s departure lounge waiting for my final part of the journey ! This makes me aware of death and to live my life ‘as a good and faithful servant’.


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