Sunday, February 27, 2011

Judgement Sunday


Matthew 25:31-46

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'”

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”

And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?”

Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Amos 2:6-8, 3:1-2

Thus says the LORD:

"For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth
and turn aside the way of the afflicted;
a man and his father go in to the same girl,
so that my holy name is profaned;
they lay themselves down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge,
and in the house of their God they drink
the wine of those who have been fined…”

Hear this word that the LORD has spoken against you, O people of Israel, against the whole family that I brought up out of the land of Egypt:
"You only have I known
of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
for all your iniquities.


Gregory of Sinai, On Stillness, 14

Many for long years may have been preoccupied with the spiritual life without exerting themselves, or may still be preoccupied with it in this way; but because they do not assiduously embrace hardship with heartfelt fervor and sense of purpose, and have repudiated the severity of bodily toil, they remain devoid of purity, without a share in the Holy Spirit…Instead all we have to boast about is the many profitless years we have spent in the wilderness, lazily cultivating stillness and imagining that we are somebody. At the moment of our death we will all know for certain what is the outcome of our life.


When I saw on the liturgical calendar that there was a Judgment Sunday, I admit that I was instantly thrown off balance. The idea of such a thing absolutely runs against my Protestant upbringing which focuses on unconditional forgiveness and an exceptionally soft view of love. Concepts like hell and judgment were sort of dirty little secrets, disciplinary switches that we tried to keep in our theological closet. We took them out only when necessary and never in front of company.

In reading about Judgment Sunday, however, I find that the idea is not nearly as ominous as the name makes it sound (especially not if you call it by its alternate name, "Meatfare Sunday"). Judgment is a prominent feature in the teaching of Christ, and hell is by no means absent either. Certainly the focus is on the coming of the kingdom, but judgment is an inexorable part of that coming. We profit nothing if we pretend it does not exist. It is no less perilous to ignore it than it is to overemphasize it.

St. John of Sinai speaks of three types of fear in his Ladder of Divine Ascent: fear for one's life otherwise known as cowardice, fear of hell, and the fear of God which is so pure as to be actually fearless. The first is meritless, the second has value, and the third is perfect. Like John, I see purpose in the fear of hell and of judgment. Reading Matthew 25 is a good reminder that salvation is not an invitation for us to rest on our laurels. However you want to explain it, Jesus is clear on more than one occasion that the way we act matters. Not only will our deeds come to light at judgment, but the principle expressed in Amos 3 suggests strongly to me that our lives will be judged by a harsher standard. To know God is to know the higher standard, and to know that standard is to be held to it.

In preparing for Lent it is important to realize three truths. First, our sins have always been inexcusable and our virtues equally insufficient. Second, God needed to offer himself on a cross in order to excuse those sins and to convey his all-sufficiency to us. Finally, neither the first truth nor the second absolve us of our responsibility to repent of our moral failures and to make efforts toward moral improvement.


When You, O God, shall come to earth with glory,
All things shall tremble
And the river of fire shall flow before Your judgment seat;
The books shall be opened and the hidden things disclosed!
Then deliver me from the unquenchable fire,
And make me worthy to stand at Your right hand, righteous Judge!
--Eastern Kontakion

*A note: I realize that Lent has not yet begun for either the Eastern or Western churches. Judgment Sunday, however, marks the beginning of the fast season for the Orthodox. This Sunday is the last when those observing the traditional Lenten fast can eat meat. It is followed by Cheesefare Week when dairy can still be eaten. The following Sunday, Cheesefare Sunday, is the last day when dairy is eaten. Clean Monday then begins the official Lent fast.

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