Saturday, March 5, 2016

Crying out

Last Judgment, by James Janknegt
The Lord said, “When the Son of man comes in his glory and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of 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, ‘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 brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘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, ‘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, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The Gospel of Matthew 25:31-46

Today is the Lord’s Day of the Last Judgment. We are getting very close now to the Forty Days (Sarakostí) of what we like to call the Great Fast, or ‘Great and Holy Lent,’ a time period when we are encouraged to fast, pray, and give alms. To the followers of Jesus, this ‘special’ season is hardly more than a speed bump on the street they’re already driving down towards their destination. To the devout churchables, this is the season we’ve all been waiting for, when we can quietly concentrate on self-purification through our austerities and acts of charity, and get ourselves ready to meet the Lord when He resurrects at Holy Pascha, or Easter, if you don’t mind calling it by its ordinary name.

Today, we eat our last hamburger or steak, and look forward to a week of cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches. Yes, eat up all that yogurt in the fridge, drink all that milk, butter your toast on both sides, and don’t forget to gobble up the rest of that ice cream in the freezer. Stomach, get ready for rice and beans, rice and lentils, rice and veggies. And, unless you’re already on a tofu diet like me (because I just like tofu), you may be getting very acquainted with that meat and milk substitute in many of its forms. Ah, how good a bowl of cheerios tastes with vanilla soy milk!

Today we hear a gospel message straight from Messiah’s mouth that, had he never said another word, would still put us all to shame, make us forget our doctrinal disputes and dogmatic wars, eschew our schisms for fear that we might separate ourselves ahead of time and find ourselves with the goats instead of the sheep—that is, if we really listened to it. We’ve certainly had enough chances to hear it, understand it, and change our beliefs and behaviors to conform to it. We give it the amount of attention we think it deserves, and then go off to do the really important stuff on our lists.

Proving myself humble rather than proud, I ask the prayers of the brethren, that my sinful soul may nevertheless be saved. I quote the Desert Fathers to bolster my self-image of pious, though ignorant Christian country bumpkin, ‘Who the sheep are, God knows, but the goats are such as I.’ Meanwhile, hidden like a nest of earwigs incubating under a damp rock, my little kingdom of self still serves me, not God, who gave me that rock to stand on, not hide under. I hear these gospel words of the only True Man that ever lived, and still lives, even in me if I would only abandon all and follow Him, crying out,

Stay with me awhile, Lord. Give me some time to repent. Teach me how to unclothe myself so I can wear Your skin. Gently steer me into the road not taken by the multitude and, most importantly, by me. Show me the secret of unhousing myself, so I may dwell in Your house, in that mansion You made for me in the House of Your Father. ‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. Speak but the word, and my servant shall be healed,’ yes, Lord, that my servant self should be free of its mortal wounds, and in Your immortal wounds, find peace and safety. Lord, have mercy, and save me.

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