Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
Today we imagine the scene of that last day, when all the nations of the earth are assembled before the throne of God, all those from all ages and places, to receive the final judgment, and how we will be found worthy, or not worthy, to stand in the presence of God, whose presence will be absolute joy to those who know him, a refining fire of hope for all souls who are yet destined for salvation, and forever sadness and grief for those who didn’t seek him while there was still time. Many theologians have reflected that it will not be God who judges, it will simply be our ability to stand before God, our level of comfort in God’s presence based on how we have lived our lives, that will ultimately be the deciding factor. Have we taken the time necessary to get to know him now? Or will we stand before a stranger who will look at us, eye-to-eye. How would that feel?
One of the most powerful hymn texts for me is this one from the early 19th century, the daughter of an Anglican pastor, Caroline Noel. It presents to us, like the “Philippians hymn,” a text from Saint Paul probably used by the earliest church for worship (Phil. 2:10), a synopsis of the kerygma, or the story of salvation:
- At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, every tongue confess him King of glory now; ‘tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord, who from the beginning was the mighty Word.
- At his voice creation sprang at once to sight: all the angel faces, all the hosts of light, thrones and dominations, stars upon their way, all the heavenly orders in their great array.
- Humbled for a season, to receive a name from the lips of sinners, unto whom he came; faithfully he bore it spotless to the last, brought it back victorious when from death he passed;
- bore it up triumphant with its human light, through all ranks of creatures, to the central height, to the throne of Godhead, to the Father’s breast; filled it with the glory of that perfect rest.
- In your hearts enthrone him; there let him subdue all that is not holy, all that is not true. Look to him, your Savior, in temptation’s hour; let his will enfold you in its light and power.
- Christians, this Lord Jesus shall return again, with his Father’s glory, o’er the earth to reign; for all wreaths of empire meet upon his brow, and our hearts confess him King of glory now.
I can’t really think of a more perfect catechesis than this one, and it gives us an unflinching story of how Christ became our King, why he is our King, and how we must respond to serve his reign.
It is precisely the gift of time into which God has placed us, that offers us a context to change. Think about it a moment. Without time there is no change—there can be no before or after, no conversion. Ultimately I believe that time is the ultimate expression of God’s love. Sure, it can seem to drag on, to limit us, especially when we find ourselves confronted with “time’s up!” How much more we might have done, we think. I could have studied better, I think, when the exam is over. I could have gone to bed earlier and be more clear-headed when the alarm rings in the morning. That is the other, less desirable side of looking at time: regret. It is so easy to waste time. Without time there can be no hope.
Without time, there can be no change of heart.
As we consider the so-called “end time” (of course, there is no end for us…), let us focus our hearts on now, the meantime. There is still time to get to know the One in whose image each of us is made, the One who placed us in the context of time so that we might turn away from ourselves and back to him. Who knows how much? Only God, but if we use time to get to know him, become comfortable with him, after all time when the time comes, it will be like a reunion with a dear one, as the flood of memory and all love we have known will swell and embrace us and welcome us home.
God bless you.