SERMON on the Last Judgement
5 March 1989
This is the Sunday of the Last Judgement. A day will come when all of us will stand before God, each person bringing his own harvest and, as the Book of Revelation tells us, every kingdom, every nation bringing its glory and also its shame.
On that day the time for faith will be over, because faith is certainty about things unseen, and on that day, in the blinding glory of God, we will see; we will see Him as He sees us, we will know Him as He knows us. And the time for hope will be over, because hope is expectation, and on that day all things will have been fulfilled; it will be the eighth day, the last day, the last day of time, the last day of becoming; it will be the first day of eternity.
And on that threshold we shall stand; what are we going to bring? What will be the fruit of a whole life, of each of us singly, of all of us in our togetherness? Not as a crowd of individuals unrelated to each other, but as a living body of people who have all, all been baptised into Christ, into unity, into oneness, who are all called by the power of the Holy Spirit to be the only-begotten Son of God in the Only-begotten Son of God – what are we going to bring then? The only thing that can survive, faith and hope being of the past, will be love.
And this is what today's parable speaks about; not so much of the terror, the horror that may seize each of us, freeze the heart within us or, like a fire, burn us at that moment; it speaks of that confrontation when we shall see that the whole meaning of life is love, and ask ourselves: is there any within me? Have I borne any fruits of love? And the parable speaks of that.. It does not say that we shall be acknowledged because we said to ourselves or others that we believe in God, because we described ourselves as disciples of Christ. As He Himself said, on that day He will tell us that those who have not lived up to the Gospel, been His disciples in all truth, will not be recognised by Him. But we may well say, Have we not prayed in Thy churches? Indeed, have we not worked miracles in Thy name? – And He will answer, Go away, workers of iniquity!
But what is then our hope? This parable speaks of it so clearly, in a word that may be summed up as, «If you have been human – then you are of the Kingdom. If you have not been human – you are not». It is not questions of faith which Christ is asking; He is asking whether there was compassion in our hearts, whether we could see suffering around us and respond – or not. And if we have responded, we are His own.
But there is something almost more wonderful in this parable; it is not addressed only to the Christian, to the disciple, to the believer, because when He says to those who have been filled with compassion, filled with love, «You have done all these things: you have fed the hungry, you have given shelter to the homeless, you have visited the sick, you have not been ashamed of recognising as your brother the one who was in prison», and so forth, all those people will say, «But when did we see You in these people?» And Christ will say to us, «What you have done to one of My brethren, you have done to Me».
Isn't it wonderful to think that love bridges all gaps, that love can survive all trials; that being human does not mean seeing in my brother an image of God, seeing in my brother God's beloved for who He gave His life; it is enough for us to see in our neighbour one who needs compassion: a human being, nothing more – and then, we have done the right thing.
Today we remember the judgement, and it is also the beginning of our fast. From today onwards, Orthodox Christians abstain from meat; has it any meaning apart from the ascetic, the disciplinary? Yes, it has, I think. There is a frightening passage in the ninth chapter of Genesis. After the flood, when mankind has become even weaker than before, less rooted in God, more tragically alone, more tragically dependent upon the created because it has lost communion with the uncreated, God says to Noah and his people, «From now on all living creatures are delivered unto you as food; they will be your meat, and you will be their terror...'' That is the relationship which human sin, the loss of God in our lives, has established between us and all the created world, but particularly, in a particularly painful, monstrous way with the animal world. And our abstention from meat in the time of Lent is our act of recognition; it is also – oh, to such a small extent! – an act of reparation. We are the terror of the created world, we are those who destroy it, we are those who mar and pollute it, yet we are called originally to be its guide into eternity, into God's glory, into the perfect beauty which God has intended for it. We were called to make of this world of ours God's own world, God's own Kingdom – in the sense that it is His family, the place where He lives among His creatures, and where the creatures of God can rejoice in Him and in one another.
Let us therefore, to the extent to which we are faithful to the call of the Church, remember that apart from being an act by which we try to free ourselves from slavery to the material world, our fasting is an act of recognition of our sin against the world and, however small, a real attempt to make reparation for it, bring a testimony that we understand, that we are heartbroken, and that even if we cannot live otherwise, we live with a pain and a shame, and turn to God and to the world, which we treat so atrociously, with a broken and contrite heart. Amen.