That was a very sobering reading. Today is the Sunday of the Last Judgement. The last 3 weeks we have been considering the great mercy that God gives to all repentant sinners. The tax-collectors, representing the most vilified and obvious sinners, and the Prodigal and his older brother all receive the unlimited love and mercy our heavenly Father offers to us all in His great patience and compassion, and we take heart. We understand at the very core of our being that if we sow love and peace, we will reap increased and abundant love and peace in our lives, but if we sow hatred and discord, we will reap the results of these actions and it will increasingly not go well for us. Only the cross of Christ can keep us from reaping the horrible results of our sins, but in God’s great mercy it ever awaits us. Even our non-Christian culture understands these basic universal concepts. As the Beatles put it “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Pretty much their last song before they broke up in disarray. It is one thing to know these concepts and quite another to be able to live them.
Today, with the Sunday of the Last Judgement, we are warned that while His forgiveness and mercy are freely available as a gift to all who come to Him in repentance, we must make this decision and choose to continue on the path of repentance while we are able – before time has run out. Every Liturgy we pray with great fervour, once before the Creed and once before the Lord’s Prayer for “A Christian ending to our life: painless, blameless, and peaceful; and a good defence before the dread judgement seat of Christ” When we come for confession; the prayer of forgiveness which the priest prays at the end is “May God… forgive you all things through me a sinner both in this world and in the world to come and set you uncondemned before His terrible judgement seat…” There is a time of righteous judgement for each of us, and the destination of our souls will be decided based upon our own choices and actions, for these choices and actions demonstrate the truth and reality of our love for God and all of mankind. We need to be living in communion with Christ and our Christian family right here and now. We shouldn’t expect that somehow at the last minute we will be able to suddenly wake up and change our entire manner of living and frame of mind at our inevitable appointment at the Last Judgement. It starts NOW.
If you want to understand what the Church teaches, one of the best ways is to pay attention to the Vespers and Mattin’s verses. Last night at Vespers we sang “a river of fire will draw all men amazed before Your judgement-seat.”… “The books will be opened and the deeds of all men laid bare” We will have nothing to say, all of our acts and thoughts, our deepest motives cultivated and nurtured during our brief journey here on planet earth, especially that which we had hidden – even from ourselves, all will be completely exposed to the light of God’s absolute truth. The twisted excuses we had held on to, attempting to justify our behaviour will lay silently, in a crumpled heap at our feet. We will not so much be judged as judge ourselves as the light of Christ illumines all. Simply by the very reality of being present in His light – all will be judged. We will see our life, all of our actions the good and the sinful, as in one great and eternally occurring moment, standing outside of time as we now know it. At that moment we will truly understand that apart from God’s grace, mercy and love there is truly nothing; apart from God all is non-existent. The essential prayer the Church gives us “Lord have Mercy,” which we will have repeated 78 times by the end of this Liturgy, will be our only defence and hope.
Remember, the essential prayer of the Church is “Lord have mercy on ME the sinner.” We are never to judge another person. We have no idea what influences and conditions they have encountered and only God knows each of us completely. The standard we are to judge ourselves to is upwards – to God’s unconditional love. We all have a long ways to go and need continuously to receive God’s mercy. We don’t judge ourselves on the curve, looking at others and deciding perhaps we’re not so bad. Two main attitudes: Judge no-one and forgive everyone for everything, for we too are fellow sinners in need of God’s love and forgiveness!
We hear in other passages of the gnawing worm, the burning fire, the gnashing of teeth… Rather than physical realities, describing a punishment imposed from a wrathful God, these would allegorically describe our own potential state of consciousness when we wake up to true reality in the kingdom of God, and comprehend how we have squandered our opportunities and our destinies as children of God. Think of how it gnaws at our guts in the interior depths of our being when we do or say something monumentally stupid, something cruel and impulsive, and wound someone we love deeply – our parents or spouse or children, or any of our fellow human companions, through a very ill-advised action or word at home, work or school. This would be a small foretaste of the great anguish we may feel as we stand before Christ at the last judgement, great regret at not making the most of our brief time here to follow Christ and seek the kingdom of God before all else.
The Fathers tell us that the very things that Christ lists in today’s gospel, He suffered Himself. He hungered in the desert and refused the devil’s suggestion to change the rocks into bread to feed Himself. On the cross He said “I thirst.” Christ tells us “The foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” On Great and Holy Friday we sing “Give me this stranger who has no place to lay His head.” He was taken down naked from the cross and the noble Joseph “wrapped Him in fine linen, anointed Him with spices, and placed Him in a new tomb.” He took into Himself all the sickness and sin of the world, and was thrown into prison, and was whipped and crucified by the authorities – all completely approved by the legal system of the day.
Christ experienced all these things, and as He tells us today in the gospel reading, “When you help the least of My brethren suffering any of these things, you do this directly to Me.” When you ignore them, you ignore Me! Christ has also transformed and sanctified each of these things. We hunger and He gives us the bread of life, His very body as real food. We thirst and he gives us living water that springs up into everlasting life. We are strangers and pilgrims in this world desiring to be truly known, and He prepares a true home for us in His kingdom – one prepared from the foundation of this transient world, and tells us that we are known by God down to the very hairs of our head. We are naked and He clothes us with a garment of light, our baptismal robe, and we put on Christ Himself. He came that we might have life and be forgiven our sin and healed of the sickness resulting from it. He has proclaimed liberty to the captives, those imprisoned and tormented by the evil one, and has shattered the gates of hades freeing all who would follow Him.
We are given countless opportunities to choose to invest our time and resources in the kingdom of heaven. This is heart changing work. We are told many times to build up our investment account where moths and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not steal – and the price of oil and the stock market are not a concern. Today’s gospel spells out very clearly and simply what the capital requirement is for eternal investing. “Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe and give shelter to the poor and needy, visit and comfort the sick and the prisoners.” This is the way of the kingdom, pretty simple really. But of course it is very counter-intuitive to what we learn in our world about how to get ahead. Rather than looking out for #1 we are to lay down our lives for others, to put their needs even before our own, to “deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Christ.” If we “find our life we will lose it but if we lose our lives for the sake of Christ and the kingdom of God we will find them.”
We are being told in today’s gospel to intentionally choose to help the poor and needy, or risk ignoring Christ Himself. God will bring into our immediate field of vision, as a gift to us, those we can directly help; we can donate to the Church and to those who are actively engaged in helping the poor and needy. Let us do more this Lenten season to build up our eternal savings account! Come on out for a Monday morning breakfast and help us cook and feed some of Cranbrook’s poor, I promise you will be blessed.
As we do these types of things, we demonstrate in real tangible ways our love for our neighbour. This love of neighbours and all mankind demonstrates our love for God. The Apostle John tells us that we are a liar if we say we love God and yet do not love the people God brings into our lives – even the most difficult person we have to deal with. This love needs to be shown in deed and by how we act. James tells us that faith without works is dead, it is a delusion, a lie we sometimes tell ourselves. We will be judged on what we have done, not what we intended to do or talked about in enthusiastic terms.
Christ says that the two most important commandments are to “Love your God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind; and to love your neighbour as yourself.” Our works are a testimony of our love towards God and our neighbour, which demonstrate that we are fulfilling these two most important commandments. Wherever the Church exists in truth and love, the suffering world notices and wants in. “See how they love one another, preferring the other one first.” This is the way of the kingdom of God, both here in this age and in the world to come, and Christ draws all to Himself through love.
So, let us enter into Great Lent with renewed commitment to feed and comfort the suffering humanity that surrounds us, sharing with them both physically and with the gospel, the true love of Christ. May each of us arrive at our final appointment, the Great Judgement seat of Christ, and with great joy hear “Come you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” For this is the true purpose of our journey here on planet earth.