1 Corinthians 8.8 – 9.2

Matthew 15.31 – 46

"When the Son of Man comes in His glory,” it says, “and all His angels with Him, and He sits on His glorious Throne, all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His Right Hand, but the goats on the left.” [Mat 25:31-32]

Dear faithful, in the Church, which is the mystery of the incarnate God’s very Body and Blood risen from the dead, time has been wedded to eternity, flesh and blood have been suffused with the immortal Spirit of God, the visible opens onto the invisible. In the Church this morning, the LORD’s glorious Coming Again that is still to come is here, mystically, today. In the Church, we are among the nations gathered before the Son of Man sitting on His Glorious Throne with all His angels, and we are being judged by Him, today, here and now. When I say we are among the nations, I don’t mean we as Americans; I mean we as the Christian nation, the nation of the Church which is throughout the world.

This has been given to us from our Scripture lessons over the last several weeks. For example, “Little children,” we read from St John last Monday; “it is the last hour, and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now, many antichrists have come, by which we know it is the last hour.” (1 Jn 2.18)

But, in our daily Gospel readings from St Mark this last week, we were brought to stand before the LORD at His crucifixion on Golgotha. It’s in that setting that we read this morning’s Gospel of the Son of Man judging the nations on the Last Day. Standing on Golgotha below the LORD on His Cross high and lifted up on Friday last, this morning’s Gospel gives us to see that we are standing before the Son of Man come in His Glory with His angels, sitting on His Throne, judging all the nations gathered before Him.

Do you see? Through Her biblical lectionary, the Church is revealing to us that the Cross of the LORD and the Glorious Throne of the Son of Man are one and the same. More exactly, the Cross is the Footstool of the LORD’s Throne of Glory. In this ‘Evangelical drama’ unfolding before us this last week and this morning, we are given to see what is behind the curtain torn in two from top to bottom: while the nations are judging the LORD of Glory in this world on this side of the grave, and consigning Him to death on the Cross, they are being judged by Him, and as a Shepherd divides His sheep from the goats, He is setting His sheep on His Right Hand, the goats on the left.

We are this morning but one Sunday away from the Gates of Great Lent. What those Gates of Great Lent are the Church Herself reveals to us in the Gospel reading for this coming Thursday. “Joseph of Arimathea took down the LORD’s Body and wrapped it in a linen shroud,” we will read, “and placed Him in a rock-hewn tomb…The women who had come with him from Galilee followed. They saw the tomb, and how his Body was placed in it.” (Luk 23:53, 55) The Gates of Great Lent, that is, are the Door of the LORD’s Tomb. At the Entrance of the LORD’s Tomb is where Great Lent begins.

Joseph of Arimathea placed His Body in the Tomb, it says; and the women saw how His Body was placed in it. The verb takes us to Gen 2.8, when the “LORD God placed the man He had fashioned from the earth in the Garden that was in Eden to the East.” The verb reveals that the LORD’s Tomb is the mystery of Eden to the East; His Tomb is the Font of our resurrection. Great Lent begins, then, at the Gates of Eden; it begins at the Entrance to the Resurrection. But those gates are closed and sealed, and we, with the nations of the world, are outside of it. That is our judgment today. But the judgment is not yet final.

For, as we will read this Thursday, we are still in the Day of Preparation. There is still time, so long as it is Today, the Day of Preparation, there is still time to repent. And Great Lent is all about helping us who are lost sheep find the way of repentance that leads us inside the LORD’s Tomb on Great and Holy Saturday!

This morning, then, we are standing mystically at the Cross, the Footstool of the LORD’s Glorious Throne from which He judges the nations. We are, already, in the mystery of Great and Holy Friday. We are about ready to see how His Body was placed in the Tomb and to begin the Fast in the mystery of the Sabbath, in the mystery of the Last Day, a week from today.

This week, then, we should begin preparing our souls in earnest to draw near with the myrrhbearing women this Thursday to the LORD’s Tomb, and then begin the Fast next Sunday evening. We can begin preparing ourselves by pondering with the myrrhbearers how His Body was placed in the Tomb. For how His Body was placed in the Tomb reveals, I think, how we can come to stand with the LORD’s sheep who have found the way of repentance.

The Body placed in the Tomb, whose is it? It is the Body of the only-begotten God who emptied Himself and ‘came to be’ in our human nature (Phil 2.6-8). In this Body, He partook of our flesh and blood (Heb 2.14), and He humbled Himself in obedience to the Father to the point of death on the Cross as a thief between two thieves, forsaken of God and accursed, for cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. (Dt 21.23)

Ponder indeed how His Body was placed in the Tomb. The Shepherd who knew no sin made Himself to be sin for us that he might partake of our death and share in our accursedness, our forsakenness. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities (Isa 53.5) that in Him, not outside of Him, we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5.21). This is the supreme Theophany given us to ponder as we make ready to draw near the Gates of Great Lent at the Entrance of the LORD’s Tomb, the Garden of Eden to the East, the mystery in which we come upon our resurrection in Christ, not outside of Christ. How His Body was placed in the Tomb is the substance of all biblical theophanies.

God is love, so we heard in our epistle readings last week (1 Jn 4.8), and, as we saw in our Gospel readings from last week, God’s love is manifested, it is incarnate in His extreme humility on the Cross. “He who does not love does not know God; for God is love” (1 Jn 4.8), so we read last week; and love, as we saw in the Gospel readings last week, is manifested, it is made incarnate in humility. The judgment, then, is: are we abiding in the love of God so that God abides in us? (1Jo 4:8, 16) Are we pursuing humility in the love of God? He who is not pursuing the love of God in the humility of God is not known by God. Such a one is pursuing death.

Therefore, as the LORD says: "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father. On that day, many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' Then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.' (Mat 7:21-23)

Is this telling us that it’s possible to do all these wonderful and good things in the pride of Lucifer, not in the love and humility of the Savior?

Isaiah, says, ‘we all like sheep have gone astray.’ (Isa 53.6) The Psalmist says: ‘We have all become corrupt. There is none of us who does good, no not one.’ (Ps 14.3) The goats in this morning’s Gospel now come into view as sheep who have become corrupt – goats – because they do not repent. They do not acknowledge, as did the wise thief on the Cross, that they are justly condemned and who do not pray with the Publican and the wise thief: ‘LORD, have mercy on me! Remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom!’ (Lk 23.40-42)

The sheep in this morning’s Gospel, then, are those who have ‘come to themselves.’ They have seen their mortality and that they have no righteousness of their own. They hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God, they strive to unite themselves to Christ, to abide in Christ that God may abide in them, for such a one has passed from death to life. And as the love of God is perfected in them, they gain confidence in the day of judgment, because as Christ is in the Glory of His Resurrection, so are they in this world.

We are preparing to pass over to the mystery of God behind the curtain. The life-giving, soul-healing path of repentance is before us. Let’s follow the Church, for the Church will lead us from the sealed Entrance of the LORD’s Tomb to inside His Tomb and into the joy of His Holy Resurrection! Amen!