If you want to know yourself better; if you want to face up to your faults and sharpen up your talents, then you need to ask the help of someone who knows you well. The great athletes of the world always want a trainer who really knows their full potential and realises how they can reach it. We can dismiss critics who do not really know us, because they’re usually ignorant and unfair, whereas criticism from someone who really knows and understands us, even loves us, may be hard, but is much more likely to help us.
So we Christians believe that when we die and come face to face with God, this will be a time when we will both be accepted and loved but also a time when we will be judged. But we will be judged, not by some fierce God beyond our understanding, but by Jesus, a man like us who loves us with an everlasting love, and who died on the cross to defeat death and sin and show us how much God loves us. So we say in our Creed, “He (Jesus) will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”
Of course, we cannot really understand what this judgement will be like, because such a process is outside time and space; but it is a central part of our faith that every human being, when they die, has to face up to how well they have used the life they had been given. This may well be a moment of fear, as our deepest failings are revealed, but for us Christians it is also a moment of intense joy, as our love for Jesus and more his love for us, purges away our failings, and draws us into the glory of God.
Our 1st Reading (Isaiah 63:16-17.64:1.3-8) evokes this mixture of fear and joy well. First the longing for God to act against evil “Oh that you would tear the heavens open and come down” – well we all know that feeling as we see so much sadness and conflict in the world, don’t we? Then, “You were angry.. we were all like men unclean” – yes we all have failed God in one way or another. But then the beautiful idea that God will mould us and refashion us, “You are Our Father, we the clay, you the potter, we are all the work of your hand.” When this is linked to the idea that God the potter will work in us through Jesus, our Saviour and Friend, then the Last Judgement, although it has its element of fear as the Day of Anger, has much more the element of hope, as we meet God, and at last find our failures thrown away, and all our attempts at goodness moulded and fashioned into something beautiful for God.
St Paul wrote two of his most famous letters to the Christians in Corinth because he both loved them and was also highly critical of them. It is because he really cares about them that he is so passionate. In our 2nd reading today (1 Cor 1:3-9) we have the beginning of his 1st letter to them. “I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received.”, but, if we were to read, on we would see that he both praises them that they have so many spiritual gifts, but then criticises them in a passage about love that is one of the best known in the Bible.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Cor 13)
Yes, since we will be judged by one who loves us, then love must be the dominant motive in all that we do. But not slushy, sentimental love, but real hard sacrificial love shown to us most of all by Jesus on the cross. And this is why Jesus in the Gospel (Mark 13:33-37) encourages us to “Stay awake”. Meeting God is not something that we have to run into a corner and hide from. Meeting God may be tough, but it will also be an eternal moment of infinite love. This is true not only for our future final meeting with God – the Last Judgement – but also for our meeting with God now. I love the new English translation introducing the Our Father “At the Saviours’ command.. we dare to say”, which conveys the idea that praying to God is like taking part in an enormous dare. In one sense it is the most extraordinary cheek to think we can pray to God like this, and yet because of Jesus, we can take a deep breath and dare to do it!
How wonderful God is! Never forget it!