In my recently released novel, Angel Mountain, my characters face judgment in the course of the story, and how they deal with it reveals more about them. Indeed, America today faces judgment; our culture faces judgment; our universities face judgment.
None of us wants to be judged, and it is my guess that it is a part of our human nature, perhaps our fallen nature, to desire to flee judgment or to turn a blind eye to the accusation that we have fallen short of the mark.
What is the mark? And how is it set? Does it change in time with the weather and politically correct opinion? C.S. Lewis spoke of an innate sense of right and wrong that we are born with and said that this is a proof of God’s existence. In some of us, this sense lies buried deeply, I would add. Then, in some of us it is so fine-tuned that we call those who have such an educated conscience, perfectionists. And perfectionists are guilty of pride. So there you have it. A conundrum. Can’t seem to win for losing, one of my relatives often opined.
On this Second Sunday in Advent our preachers touched on the theme of Judgment. As you may recall, the first Sunday is Death, the second is Judgment, the third is Heaven (I’m looking forward to that one), and the fourth is Hell. I virtually visited five Anglican parishes this morning, in tandem, slightly overlapping, a miraculous gift of the Internet to travel like this, from Bolingbrook, Illinois (All Saints), to Los Angeles, California (Our Saviour), to Carefree, Arizona (Christ Church), to Palo Alto, California (St. Ann’s), and lastly to our Berkeley Chapel (St. Joseph’s), parishes in our Anglican Province of Christ the King. Our Province is like a large family, stretched from sea to stinging sea, and if you have been a member for forty-three years as I have, it is heartwarming to see our priests say Mass and preach, many whom I recall as students in our Berkeley seminary in the eighties and nineties.
And so back to judgment and the last days, the Apocalypse, when we all shall be judged. One preacher referenced the hell and brimstone aspect of the possible verdict, a vision often buried. But, he said, never fear, for there is an escape route in the last hour, Jesus Christ himself. We need to repent and all will be well. We don’t repent, and all will, shall I be blunt, not be well. But we all have fallen short of the glory of God, of perfection, every one of us, so we need to get used to repenting, and often. Good advice, I thought, for I have long admired the power of habit.
A second sermon considered the wonderful Collect prayer for this morning:
“BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.” (1928 Book of Common Prayer, 92)
If we want to know what will actually transpire at the end of the world, we need to read the Scriptures as often as possible, for laced throughout are clear depictions of our future. While Revelation paints entire canvases with image and song and poetry, the Gospels, as well as the Old Testament, describe our future. But more than read the Scriptures, our priest explained, we must “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” I smiled with those words for in one of the Scripture readings this last week, St. John, in his vision we call Revelation, or Apocalypse, is give the holy book to eat.
But yes, we must inwardly write these words on our hearts. How else will we know what to repent and what to celebrate? How will we prepare for the Judgment?
Today’s times are troubling. Whether or not the end times are in the next hour or in another century, we do not know. In fact, we are told in Scripture that not even the angels know.
Ah, angels! They are all around us. I have a number of gilded icons portraying archangels which comfort me in this time of sheltering and pandemic. They guard and guide and protect. They are messengers and warriors. Scripture says we will be their judges one day (!).
Our world rejects judgment. And yet our world is quick to judge. We are told that if we fall short we can blame someone else, judge someone else, or a group, or a nation. It’s really never our fault, for that would hurt our self esteem. It’s always someone else’s fault. We are simply victims of prejudice, of class, of gender, of race. We are told to hate those who hurt us and cause us to fall short this way, damaging our self esteem.
Scriptures point to a different way, a brighter way, even if a difficult way. We must face our failings in the bright light of God and admit our sins every chance we have, daily, hourly, if not directly to a priest in a confessional, then directly to God in our prayers. Only then can we remove the cancers growing in our souls. Only then can we bear responsibility for our lives, heal our broken hearts, and step into God’s light.
Bishop Morse of blessed memory often said, “To love is to suffer.” I wondered about that but have come to see that to love is to give and to give is to lose something of ourselves. To love is to expose ourselves to hurt by others for we have given them a part of our heart. And yet to know this truth ennobles the hurt, so that suffering has profound meaning, at lease if it is the fruit of love.
Since the Fall of Man in the Garden so long ago we fail again and again, turning to the dark when we really want to turn toward the light.
In Angel Mountain, the hermit Abram preaches repentance from the mountainside, baptizing in the icy pond before the white cross. Pilgrims gather. Social media has gone viral. Who is this white-robed man commanding us to repent? Who does he think he is?
There is one in the crowd who hates Abram, hates being judged. Malcolm Underhill summons the reasons it is righteous to hate Abram, all the reasons that his teachers, his family, the social justice warriors have instilled in him over the years. For he has read, marked, and inwardly digested the scriptures of darkness. And when Malcolm is judged, he reacts like a cornered beast, growling, or like a coiled snake, hissing and ready to strike.
There are two strong currents blowing over our land. One is light and one is dark. One tells us to honor judgment, to confess, repent, and be forgiven, to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, clad in the white robes of the Lamb. The other tells us to kill the judges, to deny, to hate, to fall into the lake of brimstone and fire, the Kingdom of Hell, clad in nothingness, to devour and be devoured.
It is Advent and we look to Bethlehem, to the Advent of the Christ Child on Earth. We watch and we wait. We clean out our hearts and prepare a room for the King of Glory to reside. Who is the King of Glory? The Lord God of Hosts, the Lord God of Hosts.
Come, Lord Jesus, come. In your advent, set your people free.