The Apostles' Creed
He Will Come to Judge the Living and the Dead
This subject is one which rightly falls into the season of Advent when we look forward not just to the celebration of the birth of Christ at Bethlehem but also to his second coming in glory. But despite the best efforts of ministers, the Advent period inevitably becomes a preparation for Christmas, with all its busy-ness and planning, its carol services and social occasions, even although some of the carols we sing mention Christ's second coming to reign in righteousness.
The early church considered Christ's second coming in judgement to be something which would occur very soon and unexpectedly. This attitude appears in the letters of St Paul where there is often the impression that time is short and that our priorities must reflect this. To some Christians, this approach is still of importance, to others it is more peripheral and less central in their lives.
Generally speaking, in society at large, the day of judgement has dropped out of our consciousness as something to be reckoned with. The old court oath, taken before giving evidence, "I swear by Almighty God, as I shall answer at the great day of judgement, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" has been modified and modernised and the reference to the day of judgement omitted. It seems no longer part of our culture to believe that Someone, out there and invisible, knows all we do and think, and that this presence deters us from bad behaviour. It seems that too many people consider that anything goes as long as you are not caught.
As Christians, we believe that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead. We are told that we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ. In the first passage we read, we saw that God has given judgement to his Son; Christ is our Judge. In the second passage, the writer to the Hebrews describes the end of the journey, 'you are come unto Mount Zion', the journey which began for the Hebrews at Mount Sinai. Here he calls God the Judge and Jesus the Mediator, the shedding of whose blood made the new covenant and the new relationship between God and Man. Jesus is both Judge and Mediator.
When we as Christians examine our lives in the light of Christ's goodness, purity and love, we become only too aware of our faults and our falling short. Our love seems feeble, our enthusiasm weak and we are easily distracted from the goals to which we know we should strive. As we seek the presence of Christ each day, each day he comes in judgement, not just once but over and over again. It is not just on the things we have done, it is also the things we have not done; they were possible but we let them pass or something more attractive beckoned. As we realise these things, we ask for forgiveness and for the strength to do better. We can walk in newness of life but we can never be complacent as the judgement is still to come.
Elgar's well-known oratorio, The Dream of Gerontius, is based on a poem by Cardinal Newman. In the second half, Gerontius has died and his soul is greeted after death by his angel who has looked after him through life and knows that he is saved. He is expecting to come before his Judge and is surprised that, having feared death and judgement during life, he finds he is now no longer afraid. His angel explains that for him the bitterness of death is passed and 'also, because already in thy soul, the judgement is begun.'
While preparing this, I was reading a book by David Adam called 'The Cry of the Deer.' This is a series of meditations on an ancient hymn, one line of which reads 'I arise today through the strength of his descent at the day of Doom.' It struck me initially as an odd thing to be a source of strength until I realised that the poem speaks of Christ's coming again in glory, something that Christians have waited for throughout the centuries. This is indeed something to make us lift up our heads and look forward, and particularly appropriate as we move forward into the unknown of a New Year. 'I arise today through the strength of his coming at the day of Doom.'
As we walk with Christ and try to do his will, daily seeking forgiveness and renewal, we know that when he comes in judgement and that day dawns, we shall come before not an unknown Being but One who is our Saviour and our Friend. We can pray 'O Lord, in Thee have I trusted, let me never be confounded'
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