Who wouldn’t hope for more opportunities to use that word on a regular basis?


It comes from the Greek word meaning “the last, the furthermost, the most extreme.”

But eschaton isn’t simply a garden variety “last.” Nope, it has its own unique take on the notion and a distinctly different gist to the idea of it than, say, the Greek word “telos.”

Telos has more of a really-sincerely-we’re-not-joking take on “last.”

Eschaton, on the other hand, means the fulfillment of all things: the ultimate consummation of everything.

Today is Dec. 31.

It’s a day that, paradoxically, packs a bit of both telos and eschaton.

The day signifies the last day of the year, which also makes for a day of reflection, of reckoning, of review of all that transpired, of events that were welcome or not, intentional or accidental.

Not least of all, the telos of this day means all of your charitable giving must be in for tax purposes; you have to spend all the money in your HSA accounts, and your vacation days (unless you’re one of the lucky ones) have to be used. It’s the really-sincerely-we’re-not-joking last day of 2015.

But Dec. 31 is also the pivot point for the beginning of 2016 and a shot at fulfilling some hopes and goals.

It’s an eve for considering resolutions, making promises for the new year, contemplating new beginnings, and opening one’s eyes to fresh possibilities that hadn’t been noticed in days, months or years past.

In Christian theology, eschatology is the study of the things that will come to pass when everything – well, passes. Talk of the eschaton has been, unfortunately, an occasion for threat and fear: Think of its spin in the “Left Behind” series. But instead, and more faithfully I believe, the eschaton can be a concept filled with hope.

We can trust that in the eschaton God’s intentions will be brought together with vibrancy, clarity and completeness.

In the meantime, we are offered a moment to steward the promised eschaton into being here and now. If it’s good enough for the ultimate fulfillment, it’s good enough to give it a whirl in 2016.

Jürgen Moltmann, a German theologian, puts it this way: “How should we really get involved in this life, with its conflicts, pains, and disappointments, if we don’t trust life more than death, and if we don’t with every breath confess life, and stand up to the powers and conditions which disseminate death?”

That’s eschatological thinking.

Death is real.  Life is real-er.

Even though we know that our telos, not just of this year, but of our lives, is coming (eventually), how can we steward the stronger promise of eschatological life?

On this Dec. 31, 2015, we are, no doubt about it, greeting the really-sincerely-we’re-not-joking telos of the year.

But as we see the whites of the eyes of 2016 staring at us, we have an opportunity to ask ourselves some questions that have far more to do with the eschaton than the telos – and questions that have a ring of resolution to them as well.

Try, for example: “What are God’s eschatological promises?” “How can I, in 2016, anticipate the eschaton in my life and the broader world?”

And, of course, “How can I use the word ‘eschaton’ in as many ways as possible in 2016?”

Anna Madsen
Anna Madsen is an ELCA pastor, freelance theologian through OMG: Center for Theological Conversation and founder of Spent Dandelion, a retreat center in Two Harbors, Minn.

Read more about: