In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Following the calendar of our services in the weeks before Great Lent, we come today to the Sunday of the Last Judgment. We’ve been viewing all of the Gospel readings this pre-Lenten season through the prism of preparation. The Church offers us opportunities to look carefully at various aspects of our lives; this prepares us to enter Great Lent, when we’ll be very focused on drawing closer to Christ in every way, especially concentrating on the weakness we’ve discovered in the few weeks before the Fast. Zacchaeus Sunday asks us if we really want to see Christ (is Christ our ultimate desire in life); the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee invites us to analyze our approach to living the commandments of our Lord (is our ascetic life deepening our love of God); the parable of the Prodigal Son then prepares us to repent, to turn away from all the sin in our lives, especially through the image of the loving Father who eagerly awaits his fallen son and rushes out to meet him and to forgive him.

And so today we have this reading on the Last Judgment from the Gospel of St. Matthew. Today we’re being prepared for that great meeting with Christ when the days of our lives have come to an end and we stand before the dread judgment seat of our God. In our prayers we call this moment dread or fearful because to stand before the face of the king and creator of all is a dread a fearful activity. All of us at some point in our history will come to this moment – standing before Christ, to whom the Father has appointed all judgment of the deeds of men, awaiting His judgment on our lives. Fr. Zacharias says that our lives, in the final analysis, are a preparation for our death; we choose the way we’ll walk in life, and this decision sets our course for all of eternity. This is a very weighty thought when we consider our lives in the light of this mornings’ Gospel.

It can be very tempting to talk about this Gospel in terms of the ascetic life of the Christian, but that’s not what the Gospel is about. Other places in the Scriptures talk about how much we pray, what books we read, church attendance, repentance, fasting. But not this morning. It’s easy to say we should do these ascetic things more, it’s even easy to want to do these things more. But that’s not what Christ says this morning. At the seminary, the homily for the Last Judgment always contained a reminder that the judgment wasn’t a theology quiz; no questions about books or theological terms or even prostrations or prayer rules. All of this is important in our lives – we learn and we pray and we read and we fast and we commune at the Divine Liturgy in order to live in Christ. And it’s how we live that Christ puts to the test in this morning’s Gospel. Met. JONAH reminded us recently that 95% of Christian life takes place “in the world.” We certainly need the other 5% – in the Church, in the icon corner, etc. But most of our lives we spend out in the world.

And the questions Christ poses to us this morning: Do we feed the hungry? Do we clothe the naked? Do we assist the needy and visit the sick and those in prison? The Gospel could be no more clear – these are the things that are important. Christ identifies Himself with all men, even the least of all men. “If you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it to me.” And if we’ve refused to do for others, then we’ve refused to do for Christ. This is the type of Gospel lesson that’s difficult for us to hear, because it actually requires that we do something. We can’t just say a prayer, or send a check in the mail – we actually have to present Christ in us to everyone we meet. And we’re even called to seek out those in need, and then to treat them like we would treat Christ. This isn’t an easy Gospel – but in order to be prepared for that final day of judgment, this is something that we have to address in our lives. We tend, in our society, to be judgmental of people in need or in prison, and we assume someone else takes care of the sick and the hungry. But Christ puts the measure of a Christian life before us today. Everyone on this planet is created in the image and the likeness of Christ – do we see it, do we believe it, and do we live it?

We’ll end with a restatement of the Gospel, in a quote from St. Maria of Paris. She very literally lived this Gospel – she hid Jews under the Nazis, went to a concentration camp after being caught, and by her own choice she replaced a Jewish woman in the line to the gas chamber. She gave her life for her fellow human being. “At the Last Judgment I will not be asked whether I satisfactorily practiced asceticism, nor how many prostrations and bows I have made before the holy table. I will be asked whether I fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and the prisoner in jail. That is all I will be asked.”

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!