24 - Last Judgment, Mar 3, 2019

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1 Corinthians 8:8 – 9:2

Matthew 25:31-46

St Paul tells us that the mystery of God hidden before the ages is the mystery of ‘Christ in you, our hope of glory’! (Col 1:27) Beset in this life, and often overwhelmed by all kinds of trials and afflictions, how are we to discover Christ and the hope of His Glory in us not as a religious claim but as the really real?

We come to this morning’s Gospel of the LORD judging the nations directly from our reading in St Mark this last week of the nations judging Christ. On Friday, we “beheld from afar off” the LORD Jesus Christ crucified on the Cross (Mk 15:40).

So then, understanding the spiritual substance of Great Lent in terms of the Church’s lectionary, where do you think the Last Judgment in this morning’s Gospel is taking place, and when? What I see is that the Last Judgment takes place at the LORD’s Cross. The Cross of the LORD is the Footstool of His Judgment Seat. And, the Last Judgment is taking place now, in the human soul. The Judgment of the Last Day began from the LORD’s Cross on Great and Holy Friday.

Now, this morning’s Gospel is assigned for our contemplation every Meatfare Sunday, when we have almost finished breaking camp and are just about ready to set out on the Lenten Exodus in but eight days now. With this morning’s Gospel, Great Lent comes into view as a mystical gate through which we come to the Judgment of the Last Day. The whole season of Great Lent is revealed now to be a mystical standing before the LORD Jesus Christ as at the Judgment on the Last Day. If we take up the Fast voluntarily, in the fear of God, with faith and love, we should find ourselves turning inward. There, in our soul, the Judgment of God on the Last Day is taking place now. It is taking place from and in the mystery of the LORD’s Cross. The Fast brings us into the presence of God. By means of the Fast, we take off the fig leaves, we lay aside every excuse and we offer to the merciful Judge, our LORD and Master, Jesus Christ, judging us from His Cross—we offer to Him this supplication: LORD, have mercy on me, the sinner, the goat, the Pharisee, the Publican, the Prodigal, the Elder Brother!

It says in our reading from St Mark on Friday last that certain “women who had followed Him in Galilee and ministered to Him, and many others who had gone with Him up to Jerusalem, were standing “afar off beholding Him on the Cross (Mk 15:40-41). If we enter the season of Great Lent prayerfully, in the fear of God, with faith and love, we join the “many others” who followed Him from Galilee. This is when He came out of the wilderness after His Baptism and began preaching and teaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” We followed Him from the Font of our Baptism. There, we swore an oath that we would unite ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death. One week away from the beginning of Great Lent, we have come to the very Gates of Great Lent. Following our reading last Friday from St Mark, we are given to see that the Gates of Great Lent are on Golgotha; this is the “place” of the Judgment on the Last Day. And, we are given to see that the Cross of the LORD, the Footstool of His Heavenly Throne, His Judgment Seat, is itself the Gate of Great Lent.

Preparing to enter Great Lent, then, we are getting ourselves ready to enter into the LORD’s Judgment of us on the Last Day. Submitting ourselves to the Judgment of the LORD as on the Last Day—coming mystically to Golgotha to prostrate our souls before His Cross, the Footstool of His Heavenly Throne and Judgment Seat—is what the six weeks of the Lenten Fast are all about. In its worldly vesture, Great Lent is six weeks; but in its spiritual substance, Great Lent is timeless. It transports us inwardly to a mystical place beneath space-time in which we stand “afar off” in the timeless presence of the divine Judge. There, we “behold Him” executing His Judgment against us by ascending the Cross. There, we hear Him pronouncing the sentence of His Judgement when he prays to the Father: “Father, forgive them for they not what they do!” Is this the LORD’s Judgment we can hope to receive if we mourn, if we take off our fig leaves, if we lay aside every excuse, and descend into our soul to pray from a broken and contrite heart: LORD Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!

Brothers, sisters: there is a way by which we can draw this cleansing judgment of Christ’s Cross out of our mind as an idea we give lip-service to, and out of our soul as an emotional, sentimental feeling we gush over or get disgusted over, depending on our mood. There is a way by which we can make it incarnate, woven into the warp and woof of our soul and body so that it becomes the governing and animating principle of our life both consciously and unconsciously.

On the first Wednesday of Great Lent, at the Canon of St Andrew, in the Third Ode of Matins, we will hear this: “From the tree of the Cross, there grows for all the world the flower of abstinence [the ascetic disciplines of the Church]. Let us then accept the Fast with love.” (Lenten Triodion, p. 230) I ask you to see that the Fast is rooted in the Cross. That means its spiritual substance is the wood of the Cross.

The Lenten Fast, that is to say, is the Cross Christ calls us to take up. Take up the Fast and we receive into our soul and body the power of Christ’s Cross, and the power of Christ’s judgment begins to work in us who receive it. So, what, precisely, is this power of Christ’s judgment that begins to work in us to our cleansing and healing and salvation?

It says that the women who were standing “afar off” beholding Him on the Cross were those who had ministered (diakonia) to Him in Galilee. We find the same word in this morning’s Gospel: “When,” cry the goats, “did we not minister to Thee?” I’m thinking this may be the word that opens to us the deep lesson of this morning’s Gospel and which joins it to the lesson of next Sunday’s Gospel to complete the formation of the spiritual key, which the Church’s lectionary has been “cutting” over the last several weeks, that will unlock the Lenten Gates for us so that we can descend down to the hidden depths of our soul and come upon the better and changeless path of the Lenten Exodus that will lead us truly, spiritually, mystically back to the LORD’s Tomb whence we ascend to God in the Resurrection of Christ.

How does Christ minister to us who are separated from Him by the wall of hostility deep in our souls? He ascends the “Judgement Seat” of His Cross for our sake, and from the Judgment Seat of His Cross, He prays the Father to forgive us, His enemies.

The power of Christ’s Judgment that begins to work in us when we lay aside every excuse and receive His Judgment against us is the power of His Holy Spirit that cleanses us of all our sins and impurities, above all our self-righteousness and the enmity against God and our neighbor that grows from that. To “minister” to the least of these as to Christ, then, it seems to me, at its heart is to forgive our enemies as the LORD forgives us. When we receive and then execute the Judgment of the LORD, our judgment is taken away, for the judgment is forgiveness.

But, how can we attain to such divine likeness without the Holy Spirit of Christ? And so, Great Lent is the time when we stand mystically in the timeless presence of the Judge, submitting to His Judgment that we may be cleansed and receive into our heart the joy of His Resurrection as a living seed, and begin to cultivate that seed so that we begin to grow into the fullness and stature of Christ, and, in the likeness of Christ, forgive all things, calling brother even those who hate us.

This is the fruit of Christ’s divine commandments, and we glory in the spiritual pleasure of that fruit on Pascha Night when mystically, spiritually, truly, really, we follow, in our hearts, the risen Christ beyond the pageantry and into the reality of His resurrection that we now can taste and see. We know it because we can see it, we can hear it, we can feel it in our inner man. What do we see, hear and feel? Is it not the joy of the Holy Spirit poured out in us who have received the LORD’s Judgment against us? It is the joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection in which we find ourselves now able to minister to the “least of these” as to Christ; able, that is, in the power of Christ’s Judgment against us by which He cleanses us and heals us and raises us to eternal life in the power of His Holy Spirit, to forgive even our enemies, calling brother even those that hate us. Amen!