Sunday of the Last Judgment
We are continuing in our journey toward the start of the Great Fast… Last week we heard the parable of the Prodigal Son and we spoke about it as an illustration of repentance and also reflected on the reaction of the older, dutiful son – who had done everything right by his father. One of the most remarkable things about that parable was that it was not so much about the deeds and misdeeds of the sons, as it was about the character of the father and the nature of his love, which was offered equally and unerringly to his beloved children.
Today, on this second Sunday before Great Lent, the Holy Church brings before us the image of the final judgment seat of Christ, when all people will be brought before Him and the sheep (those who loved Christ) will be separated from the goats (those who did not love Him).
To the sheep, He will say ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’. This kingdom is offered to the sheep because of their compassion and service to those in need. Jesus says, ‘…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
When asked how this could be so, Christ answers them by saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to the least of these My brethren, you did it to me’.
Seated on His throne of judgment, Christ will then turn to the goats on His left and say, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels’. They will be condemned because they did not feed Him when He was hungry, give Him drink when He was thirsty, take Him in when He was a stranger, clothe Him when He was naked, visit Him when He was sick or in prison.
This is the scene at the dread judgment day, a day that awaits each and every one of us. It is a sobering thing to realize that each and every one of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an accounting of our life.
And what is it that the Lord Jesus Christ will ask of us? I think, as this morning’s Gospel makes clear, the essential question that will be put before us by our Lord Jesus Christ is this: ‘Have you loved me?’
When Christ was hungry, did we give Him food? When He was thirsty, did we give Him drink? When He came to us as a stranger, did we take Him in? Did we show love for Christ? And, as the Gospel teaches us: ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to the least of these My brethren, you did it to me’.
Have we loved one another?
This is the essential question, this is the criterion upon which we will be judged. Have we loved Christ? Have we loved one another?
We will stand on that day before He Who is Love Himself and He will look upon us to see if there is love within us, to see if our lives have shown forth that love to God and to others.
The Kingdom of Heaven to which we are called is a place where the fulness of the Light and Love of God shines forth. Just as in a traditionally executed icon, there are no shadows, all is light… so too in the Kingdom of Heaven darkness cannot dwell.
We are given this life, this brief time upon the earth, to rid ourselves of shadows and to embrace the light of Christ.
Every encounter with Christ – in our prayer, in reading the Scriptures, in the needs of the person right before us – every encounter with Christ is a judgment. We tend to rush to think of judgment as condemnation… but that is not accurate. The judgment of Christ is a revelation where we are fully exposed to the reality of who we are, what we think, what we desire.
And that is why Christianity is so deep, so all-encompassing. The judgment of Christ cracks open the deepest recesses of our being and seeks to find that Light and Love there.
As we approach the season of Great Lent, let us recognize the criteria by which Christ will judge us. It will not be checklist… Did you say your prayers? Did you choose a veggie burger? Did you do your daily reading of Scripture? There will be one measuring stick by which Christ will judge us… Did you love Me?
If the reality of who we are, what we think, and what we desire is focused on Christ; focused on loving Him to the best of our ability; focused on removing those shadows from our life that block out the Light we so ardently desire… Then all else will fall into place. ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all things will be added unto you.’ That hunger and thirst for righteousness, born out of love and gratitude to God, our loving Father, will motivate us to say our prayers, to order that veggie burger, to attend to our daily Scripture readings. All these things will be born out of our love for Christ.
May we strive with all our being to live our lives in such a way that when we stand before our Lord and He asks us, ‘Have you loved Me?’… we may reply with all sincerity and purity of heart, ‘Yea, O Lord, you know that I love you!’ And may we then be blessed to hear those most precious and longed-for words: ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant… Enter ye into the joy of your Lord.’ Amen.