Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Matthew 24:44
We're about ends and beginnings this morning, the end of one church year dedicated to mercy and the beginning of another dedicated to the Bible, the end of the ordinary green season and the beginning of the solemnity of Advent season when the Church dresses in purple to contemplate death, judgement, heaven and hell
We dress in solemn purple for the end of man as we always do to face death at funeral liturgies
Death is our enemy, there’s no getting round it, even though Christian faith addresses it directly through faith in Jesus Christ who died, is raised and will come again. I gave a clear statement of Christian faith in regards the last things to our 50 or so visitors on All Souls Day earlier this month which I felt led to repeat to the congregation this morning, so I apologise to a handful of you if you'll be hearing this bit of the sermon for the second time.
It is Christian faith that at the moment of death the soul is judged by God to pass toward one of two ultimate destinations, bliss or loss, heaven or hell. In that passage the prayer of the Church surrounds and helps all those souls the Christian community commends to God who will welcome help, the origin of the maligned term purgatory.
God wishes nothing or no one to be lost from the sight of his holiness. We imagine the moment of death, however merciful physically through palliative care, will be for most of painful as we come to see God, turning our eyes away at his loving, holy glance.
His invitation to look him in the eyes, like that of any good parent chastising his child, will be painful on account of our sins. Purgatory can be thought of, some theologians hold, as just momentary. A moment of pain as holiness meets the unrepentant sin within us, then the soul passing on to await the next stage of cosmic history.
Those who die without sin face God, as if in heaven, and begin to see him face to face, but heaven is not yet heaven until that vision is shared in the company of all the saints. Those without love continue their self-chosen loneliness into hell, which God permits as he permits free will, but doesn’t will for them such choices.
The Christian hope is consummated by the return of Jesus Christ. As we shall shortly affirm in the words of the Nicene Creed will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. That final judgement will complete our individual judgement at the moment of death. Scripture indicates the general judgement as bringing humanity of past ages to bodily resurrection to greet Christ’s return and be clothed afresh with the body, to make their heaven fully heaven, or their hell fully hell, in the life of the world to come. In that world the faithful departed will continue in a salvation that is personal, practical, purposeful and permanent.
We will continue to know personally, only unveiled, the one who so knows and loves us. We will experience the practical benefit of our sins being cast away from us. We will be fully taken into the purpose of God and with permanence. The pains we've suffered will be lost in celestial praise which can only be made perfect once God's purpose for the world is made complete at the return of his Son.
This teaching has also been the subject of our Premier Christian Radio series from Horsted Keynes which concluded earlier this morning with this clip from Alison Bellack (play programme 4))
I wonder how you see heaven? How often you think of it? When you’re saved it’s natural to look forward to this, the fulfilment of God’s call upon your life.
The great poet Saint Augustine of Hippo described heaven as the time when we shall rest and we shall see, we shall see and we shall love, we shall love and we shall praise.
He speaks in the plural for salvation’s a shared gift of God in Christ, as Paul indicates when speaking in Ephesians 3v19 of having the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, (to) be filled with all the fullness of God.
This fullness is the fullness of salvation.
What I have shared is an outline of Christian salvation projected from the promises of God in scripture which open the eyes of faith to see death as a vanquished enemy for those who hold to the Saviour.
Christian faith is built on the risen Christ. We do not, as believers, know fully what’s there so much as who’s there after death. Our Lord Jesus Christ - he is there! He is there as sure as he’s the same yesterday, today and forever!
Just as we see the risen Lord behind every crucifix so we see those we love alive with Him beyond the dust.
It is Advent Sunday but it is also the Lord's Day! The same Jesus who came, died, rose and says to us this morning it is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.... Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day. (John 6:38, 54)