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!

Today we come to the last of the preparatory Sundays before Great Lent. Technically, next Sunday is still before the beginning of the Fast, but by the end of the day next Sunday we’ll have begun the Great Fast. The last three Sundays, the Church has carried us along a path of instruction—showing us the things we’re to do during the Fast (and throughout our Christian life), and also showing us the temptations that will come as we struggle to offer ourselves more completely to Christ. And so on this very last Sunday before Great Lent, the Church reminds us of why we struggle to patiently endure (as Fr. Hopko talked about this week) in the Christian life—the Last Judgment. It’s very fitting that we hear this parable so soon to our lecture series on the Revelation of St. John – everything’s fresh in our memories as we think about that final moment of judgment, when the righteous and the wicked are separated and given their eternal resting place.

Sometimes in our culture we hear people preaching a prosperity Gospel, or a happiness Gospel, name it and claim it, but our Lord clearly teaches that to follow Him will mean persecution and trials on this earth. And in spite of this knowledge, we choose Christian this life because it’s the best life possible. Being made whole, being made truly human, becoming what we were created to be, showing forth the image and likeness of God—this is the best life has to offer, both on this earth, and in eternity. And it’s this aspect of eternity that the Church places before us today.

We’ve been shown a glimpse the last few weeks of what we’re to do in our Christian walk, following the commandments of Christ in a nutshell, now we’re reminded in the words of Christ, why. The whole of Christian life is about being with Christ, uniting ourselves to Christ. This is what Christianity is. Any of the external practices or works that we undertake have as their goal bringing us closer it Christ. If anything else is happening, as we saw with the Pharisee and the eldest son, then something is wrong. We have our eyes on something other than Christ.

A lady questioned St. Theophan the Recluse on time, stating that the people who dedicate themselves to the Christian life so often become meaner, bitter, legalistic, more difficult to be with, ugly, in short they get worse. And so the question she poses is—why? St, Theophan responds and says it’s because their works—prayer, fasting, services, spiritual discipline—these things have all become an end in themselves. They’ve taken their eyes off of the ultimate prize, which is Christ.

When we take our eye off Christ, when He is not the focus of all we do, then we’re traveling down a road of our own making. The Father’s put this Gospel reading on this Sunday for many reasons, but one of them is to remind us of the “end” and focus of our Christian labors. All of us will one day stand before the Lord on the Day of the Last Judgment—and the question will be did we follow the footsteps of Christ? Did we do those things that He left for us to do? There are so many things in this world that attract our attention, that suck up our time. Did we give first place to the things of Christ?

It’s a question that we have to re-evaluate constantly. Always making sure that in the midst of everything that happens in our lives, Christ has the priority in all things. The Father’s tell us that one of the best ways to make sure that we keep our lives in proper perspective is the remembrance of death, the remembrance of this Last Judgment that we hear about today. Not as some sort of morbid obsession with guilt or death, but to use this remembrance in the same way that Christ uses it in the Gospel. To help us remember the larger perspective on life and eternity, to help us avoid sin. We call before our minds an image of this Last Judgment, the sorrow of those being sent out from the face of God. And we use this image to stir the fire within ourselves to do the things of Christ.

In remembering the things that await us at the end of our lives, by God’s grace this can act as a deterrent from sin now, and as an encouragement to pursue the way of Christ. Whether we drive ourselves with love for the Father, as seen in the parable of the Prodigal Son, or if we need the occasional reminder of the final judgment and the punishment that awaits those who reject God—whatever we need to help encourage us to pursue Christ, let’s lay hold of these things, and pursue Christ with all of our being.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Matthew Jackson