OPENING THE BOOK OF LIFE UNDERSTANDING THE FINAL JUDGMENT

OPENING THE BOOK OF LIFE

UNDERSTANDING THE FINAL JUDGMENT

Fr Luke Veronis

 

“When Jesus Christ comes at the end of time, the Book of Life will be opened and

God will sit in judgment as all the deeds done by humanity will be revealed.

The Valley of Tears will resound with the cries of sinners who did not repent.

Alas, dark soul of mine! How long will you delay turning away from your wicked ways?

How long will you just lie there in idleness and laziness?

Why not bring to mind the awesome hour of death?

Why not shudder picturing the overwhelming Judgment Seat of the Savior?

Tell me, what will be your defense and how will you respond?

The evidence of what you did will be presented, your own actions will accuse you and condemn you. O my soul, it is almost time. Run and turn back before it is too late, and in faith cry out,

"I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned against You.

Yet, I know Your compassion, O Lover of humanity. Thus, I cry out in prayer,

O Good and Loving Shepherd, do not deny me a place at Your right hand, in Your great mercy."

Wow! Let’s reflect on this thought-provoking and powerful hymn from last night’s Vespers for Judgment Sunday. As we continue our preparation for our Great Lenten journey, which begins in eight days on Clean Monday, February 27, the Church turns our attention to one day, the final day of history, when each one of us will come face to face before the Creator of the Universe, and our lives will be laid bare.

Imagine what this will be like when the Book of Life, OUR Book of Life, will be opened and our entire life will be revealed before us and our Creator!

-    All our actions and inactions in life; all the ways we reached out in love toward others and blessed people with our simple, humble and sometimes grand gestures of love and mercy and compassion, as well as all the times we could have acted by doing little or nothing, turning away from our brother and sister in their time of need; our actions of self-centeredness, greed, lust, envy, and laziness; our failures in life; our moments when we forgot who we are as children of God and acted in our most base and senseless manner.

-    Think about all the words we said every day that blessed and encouraged people, that built them up and helped them, that brought them grace, as well as all our words of tearing down and cursing others, our careless, course, and crude words, our words that come from our anger, shame, guilt, arrogance, pride, and ego.

-    Then realize even every thought we’ve played out in our minds will be laid out in front of us; our dreams, our nightmares, our worldview, our imaginary world in our mind; our deepest, darkest secrets of your heart will be laid bare.

Can you imagine standing before our Loving Lord Jesus Christ and having our entire life laid out before us? Seriously and soberly think about this! How will we feel? How will we be standing before God with our entire life laid bare?!?

Forget God for a moment, and try to imagine standing before the person you most respect and admire in your life – it may be your spouse, your mother or father, maybe a special mentor in your life, your closest friend,  your child, or maybe someone you hold up as a model of goodness, a living saint who has inspired you in a special way. Think about this most exceptional person and then reflect on how you would feel if your entire life was laid out bare in front of them – if they knew your every single word, deed, and thought; every action and inaction; every good and every embarrassing and shameful moment.

How would you feel standing before this most admired person?

The Last Judgment is not a moment when the Creator of the Universe, the Lord of History and the Alpha and the Omega, the One who Is, who Was, and who Is To Come, the Lord Almighty stands before us in judgment, looking to punish and condemn us for all our sins and shortcomings. NO! Absolutely not!

God is not a vengeful and angry God who wants to catch us and punish us for all our sins and shortcomings. As we see throughout the Gospels and in the life of Jesus Christ, the Almighty God loves His creation so much that He entered into this dark, fallen, sinful world precisely to save humankind in our fallenness.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

Whenever we look upon the Cross or whenever we make the sign of the Cross over our bodies, we should remember the divine and unfathomable love of God for us. He died on the Cross in our place as the Sacrificial Lamb, to take our sins, our brokenness, our ugliness, our darkness upon Himself. He came to save us not to condemn us!

His divine love is unconditional! Reflect for a moment on this statement of faith. God’s divine love for each one of us and for everyone is unconditional!!! No conditions attached! His extreme love doesn’t change because of our failures and selfish actions. He isn’t a petty God who loves us when we are good and obey Him, and then turns away from us when we are egocentric and act in a sinful manner. Absolutely not! His divine love is unconditional!

This is why God’s divine love is something so hard for us to even imagine. And this is why we have difficulty understanding the Last Judgment. The hymnology of our Church talks about the overwhelming fearfulness of this Final Day but we are afraid not because of a punishing Divine God but because of how we can stand before Divine Love. Can you imagine standing before the One who loves us with His extreme, unconditional, passionate love, and have our Book of Life opened? How will we respond when we see all the times we turned away and even rejected our Divine Lover?

“I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, I was naked and you did not give me clothing, I was sick and in prison and you did not even visit me.”

Think of the person you most admire and love in this world and tell me how you will feel if you see throughout your lifetime countless times when you actually ignored this person, offended them, attacked them, rejected and even despised this person. What shame and guilt would you feel?

The shame and the guilt wouldn’t come from the person but from inside of you because you would realize what a disgraceful, dishonorable, reprehensible person you are for your appalling actions and inactions, your insensitive words and scandalous thoughts toward this person!

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Almighty One, is not a judge as we understand any judge. He is not waiting to punish us and cast us into hell. He is the Lord of Divine Eternal Love. He can only love us for His love is unconditional. Yet how will we respond to this Love?

The Sun can be a source of warmth and comfort, yet the same Sun can be a ball of scorching fire. The Sun is the same. It is our relationship with the Sun that determines how we experience it!

So today, as we continue preparing for our Great Lenten journey, which is a journey back into paradise, a journey back toward the Lord of Love, let us remember the lessons the Church is giving us in these weeks of preparation. We learned how the arrogance and pride of the Pharisee closed his heart off to God, yet the humility of the sinful Tax-Collector brought him closer to the Lord. We heard about the offensive Prodigal Son who disgracefully rejected his father and ran far away from his home, only to come to himself and repent, turning back and returning to his loving Father, while the older son stayed close physically to the Father yet never understood or adopted the Father’s mind and thus, remained outside.

These are all lessons related to the Final Judgment. We all have sinned and will be embarrassed as we stand before God on the final day when our Book of Life is opened. Yet if we confess now, if we turn back toward Him in repentance, if we cultivate an authentic spirit of humility, we will be prepared to fully embrace the Divine Love of God on that Last Day.

 

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