22 February 2012

Homily on the Last Judgment

Space and time are so tied to our life that we rarely give them a thought. Indeed, our every thought presupposes them both. We are, all of us, artists. Space is the canvas we paint on, and time is the brush we use.

Sometimes we think about things we might paint on that canvas; it’s then we use the word “if.” If I eat less, and exercise more, I will lose weight. If I study, I will get better grades. “If” is a wonderful word. It lets us consider possibilities—what might be.

But other times, we think about things that most definitely will be painted on that canvas. At those times, we use the word “when.” I remember sitting beside Cindy on her parents’ couch. I had proposed to her three times, and each time she said, “Don’t ask yet.” But as we sat there, I heard her say, “When I’m your wife…”—and to be honest with you, I can’t remember what came after those words. I only remember stopping her, looking at her and saying, “When? I accept your proposal!” And here we are, nearly 34 years later.

Today’s Gospel begins with the little word “When.” “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all his angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” Today we remember that Christ’s return in judgment is not a possibility. It’s a certainty. It’s not an “if,” but a “when.”

And his words make us think about what we’ve been painting on the canvas we’ve been given. To those who have sought him and seen him in the least of his brothers, he speaks words of greatest joy: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. I was hungry, and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me drink…”

But to those who haven’t sought him or seen him in the least of his brothers, his words speak terror: “Depart from me, O accursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you didn’t feed me; thirsty and you didn’t give me a drink…”

For me, most of the paint on my life’s canvas is already put down, already dry, already set. And when I think about it soberly, there is much to inspire me with fear. I have not sought the Savior in the least of his brothers. I have thought myself somehow better than others. I have excused my sin, and blamed others for theirs. I have served my own passions and desires. I have not wept at the thought of my sins. I have lived in exile from the Father, and fed myself on pigs’ food.

Dear friends, we are a year closer to the time that today’s text will be an overwhelming reality. The text does not start with “if,” but with “when.” When the Son of Man comes, he will judge; and come he most certainly will.

What, then, is our hope? Only this: that in his goodness and love for mankind, then “when” has not yet happened. We who hear his words still live in time and space. There is yet more color in our brush; our canvas is not yet full.

Here and now, he bids us think of his other “when"s, now fulfilled. The virgin conceived and bore a Son, God with us. God the Word became flesh and visited us. He has clothed us with his own righteousness. He has fed our hunger and quenched our thirst with the finest of fare—his own life-giving body and blood.

Because our God is good and loves mankind, the “when” of judgment has not yet happened. He gives us a precious gift—the people in our lives, this place where we live—on which to write. He gives us time—not much time, but only “today”—with which we may write the message of his mercy on that canvas.

It is still not over. It is not too late. With the prodigal from last week’s gospel we can still say, “I will arise and go to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; let me be your servant.”

We do not have forever, my brothers and sisters. But we do have today…today to meditate on his mercy…today to trust his goodness…today to show forth that goodness in the lives of all those he gives us to love.

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