With this Sunday, with Advent, we begin the new year in the Church’s calendar. We live out of many calendars. Our lives are marked by days and seasons. We mark important anniversaries, births, deaths and weddings.
This marking of time is a peculiarly human thing to do. The passing of each year brings with it its own memories and expectations. As each anniversary looms, it might come with its own joys or sadness. “I was hoping at least by this year, this would be different but it hasn’t changed”. “The pain continues, so many years later”. Without trivialising any of our cares, the Church comes to remind us, that as a people, there is a much greater event we are defined by and a far more important event to look forward to with hope – the coming of Christ. It is what answers the heart’s deepest longing. And we can be sure of it because of the event that gave birth to us – the Cross.
Does the thought of Christ’s coming fill you with joy? Maybe we are just indifferent. It’s something you cannot relate to. It is something that happens in Church on Sundays, but then, I go back to live my ‘real’ life. But this is more real than anything else. The very calendars we use, was marked by the first coming of Christ – he literally split time into B.C and A.D. And his second coming will change all things in an even greater way, when, as we say in the Creed, he will judge the living and the dead.
Many Catholics are filled with dread at the thought of the judgment, as if God was waiting to catch them out for something and send them to Hell. But the Israelites longed for God’s judgment to come to the world, because it was justice. It was an event of great hope and joy because God will set the world right and renew all the Cosmos in the judgment.
And at this judgment we will rise again, bodily. If we are judged worthy of eternal life, we will have a new body, one incapable of suffering and destruction. We are not going to be like some angels sitting on clouds playing harps. We believe in a bodily resurrection.
We carry the marks of our sins and other people’s sins on our bodies. If you have gone through some trauma, your body remembers it as much as your mind. If you have repressed anger, you will have high blood pressure. If you have unforgiveness, your body will manifest it with a different pain. But at the resurrection, God will transform our bodies. We will have our bodies, though new; we will have our memory, healed. We will recognise those we knew in this world. And our relationships will continue, but in so much greater intensity. In this world, the deepest meaning for our life comes from our relationships. They are what make our lives worth living. At the same time, the source of much of our suffering comes from our relationships as well. Some of our greatest fears are in being isolated and abandoned.
At the judgment of resurrection, our relationships will be transformed because we will be healed. The things that destroy our relationships – our incapacity to love, our wounds, our hatred, jealousies and what not – all that will be healed and we will be transformed into what God created us to be, fully. Think of someone whom you really loved – whom you’ve looked up to and admired for their capacity to love and how they made you feel. Imagine what it would be like, if the world was fully of people like that and far better. That is the promise of the judgment. But it is not just that. At the judgment the whole of creation will be transformed. God will finally set right all that has gone wrong with the world. The whole of creation will become new because sin and evil, the source of all the suffering and destruction in the world will come to an end.
If we have this hope, our lives can be filled with joy and peace, even now, whatever we might be going through. And we will be ready to meet Jesus when he comes. But if not, we can be overcome by the evil in the world. We end up putting our trust in all kinds of things, in money, in power, in all kinds of pleasures. We could easily despair trying to sort out all the problems in the world by ourselves or just give in and co-operate with its ways, deciding it’s better that I just find a way to live my life, I can’t be bothered about my neighbour.
And if we do, the Bible says, this day will catch us out, like a thief coming in the night. It will come when we don’t expect it – that is the only sign Jesus gives. And he says it will be as in the days of Noah. How was it? Eating and drinking, giving and taking in marriage. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things. But in the time of Noah, they didn’t know what was coming, just around the corner. Noah ate and drank himself, but it concerns an attitude towards your life. He did not make any of it an end in itself. When you live like there’s no God, you eat and drink and do everything as if that’s all that was to life. You simply live for yourself rather than God and neighbour. Your love dies out. And we will find that we are unable to stand before Christ because Christ is love itself. And before that Love, we can turn against it; and then there is only the possibility of the fire of Hell.
And that’s why the Church announces to us in this season of Advent, one word constantly – ‘Watch’, ‘Wake up!’. Then it will be a day of joy. Yes, there will be pain. We will see all our faults, our thoughts and every action, all of our life before us. We will know the pain we have caused, but also all the good we have done. In seeing our own lives in front of the light of divine love, it can be extremely painful. But in that will also be our salvation as it will be a pain of healing rather than condemnation.
And for us on that journey, Christ comes now in the Eucharist. If even now, we will confess our sins, there is forgiveness, even now, we show him our wounds, he will heal us as we await the final day.