November 26, 2017 Text: Matthew 25:31-46
Dear Friends in Christ,
Back in 2006, scientist gazed into the heavens. A spacecraft had returned from a mission with particles of comet dust. The scientists gazed through their microscopes hoping to discover the mystery of life.
Before science became the final court of meaning, artists were busy gazing into the heavens, creating paintings of the day of judgment when Christ would return and reveal for all people the meaning of life.
Looking at these paintings there is a common theme. The heavens are torn apart as Christ descends on a throne and the earth is breaking apart as the dead rise from their graves.
These paintings are usually stacked with multiple faces and facades. If you concentrate on just one face of a human being you can find on that face the look of discovery. They are waking from sleep and beginning to discover the deeper meaning of the world, of their Lord, and of the life that once surrounded them.
Today in Matthew’s Gospel we will experience for ourselves some of that Last Day’s sense of discovery, for . . .
“JESUS REVEALS THE MYSTERIES OF ETERNAL LIFE”
In our text we have a dichotomy. Jesus speaks to his disciples about an end, and yet his words speak about the beginning. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (v. 34) Contrast that with Jesus words to the wicked, he does not say, “Inherit the punishment prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” He does say, “Depart…into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (v. 41)
God never prepared hell for human beings. The original intent was that humanity would live in eternal fellowship with Him forever. No one was predestined to hell. Those who go to hell go there by their own choosing when they reject Jesus.
This is not a parable of the end of the world. Jesus instead offers us a discovery of the world, as God intended it. God’s original desire was for humanity to live in relationship with Him, and the day when Christ returns will be the day when God’s dreams for creation finally and fully come true.
Yes, we have rejected God’s design and fallen into sin. This leads us to do what Michelangelo did with his Last Judgment painted on the wall of the Sistine Chapel. He places a powerful papal critic of his work as far away from Christ as possible. His own face is gazed upon by Christ.
Might we place our own enemies in the same place? Not loved by Christ, how could they be? We paint people into a corner of our own making and neither of us can escape the destruction.
Christ can wipe the canvas clean. He can clean up our paint by numbers mess and make it a beautiful al fresco ready for the local art museum. Christ followed God’s design and in a heart wrenching but beautiful landscape he hung on a cross for all to see. But this painting had many layers. Jesus made his way to the eternal fire to let Satan know that the victory over sin and death ours remaineth. Jesus then rose and in a gorgeous garden setting and then a house and a road he made appearances to his grieving people. He reminded them the picture in their mind was not complete. He would rise triumphant to the heavens and the mysteries of eternal life would continue to be revealed.
In 1304 Giotto di Bondone began working on a series of frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. At the very back of the chapel is the largest scene, the last judgment. The painting was done quickly, but the image they produced is eternal. Christ returns in judgment. The scene covers the whole wall, with those raised to eternal life on Christ’s right and those raised to eternal punishment on Christ’s left. At the bottom of the image, underneath the cross, is the doorway by which worshippers would return to the world. The last image worshippers see as they enter the world is Christ returning in glory. Imagine what that would be like.
Although we have no such image over our doors as we walk out of this church, we do have the Gospel. Our Lord offers us an image of the last judgment to shape your life in this world today. As you walk through the door, opened by the cross, you enter God’s world with deeper understanding. You see things differently: the creation of this world, your Lord, even your life of service. Assured of your salvation, you now rejoice in these hidden blessings of God, this vision of life, present and eternal.