Wednesday, April 04, 2007
The Judgment of this World
Wednesday of Holy week
‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’
After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.
When we think of judgment we are used to thinking of images like the ones Michelangelo conjured – tortured souls filled with dread as they await the word that will cast them into the lake of fire. At the center of the terrible scene sits Christ, his mother at his side. One hand is raised over his head menacingly as he prepares to speak damnation. The other is held across his chest in an almost defensive posture. His body seems to recoil at the presence of those he is about to condemn as if he cannot bear them—or perhaps it is that he cannot bear to think of the fate they have chosen.
But there is a judgment that does not wait for the end of time. Our fallen world lives each day under judgment – not one that is proclaimed by Christ, but one that we choose for ourselves. Our gift of free will allows us to choose life. We are free to live as “children of the light.” As creatures made in the image of God, we have the capacity to point our will toward our creator.
There is another direction toward which we can orient our compass. We are also free to choose “the ruler of this world”. We are free to choose our own damnation by serving the creature rather than the creator. What did Jesus mean by the phrase “the ruler of this world?” Maybe he meant Caesar. He certainly ruled the world in which Jesus lived as much as anyone. Maybe he meant the Devil. Satan is often called the ruler of this world – the one who prowls like a lion looking for souls to devour. But I think the answer is much closer than that.
Humankind has been given dominion over creation. We have the freedom and the power to shape our world in ways Jesus could not have imagined in his father’s workshop. We are the ones who choose whom to serve, whom to deny, whom to love, whom to betray. We men and women are the rulers of this world, but only for a time. Our judgment is the accounting for our stewardship of the world with which we have been entrusted.
This judgment does not wait for Christ to burst through the clouds – it is a part of the fabric of creation itself. Humankind was created to live in Eden, but our world is no garden. We kill one another, starve one another, strangle whole nations with debts they can never pay, infect one another with diseases we can never cure. Our worship of ourselves – the rulers of this world – creates imbalance in creation. The universe itself is out of joint when the creature does not submit to the creator. Faced with so cosmic a calamity, no creature has the power to set things right again. Only the intervention of the one who spoke the cosmos into existence can do that.
And tomorrow, the church will remember the three days that gave the rulers of this world the chance to set things right again. We remember the night that the Word who was with God and who was God became flesh. We remember how he grew into a man, a friend, a teacher. We remember how he gave himself into the hands of the rulers of this world and how they tried to destroy him with whips and nails and vinegar.
And we remember how on the third day, Christ Jesus defeated even the grave, raised his hand and sent death itself into the fiery pit, snatching away its sting forever.
Our judgment is all around us. Everywhere we look in our broken world, we see evidence of a universe out of joint. Creation seems to be at war with itself.
In spite of all this, we have reason to hope. We need not choose damnation. We need not stumble in the darkness. Our God has given us the freedom to choose. We can believe that sound in the night to be thunder. We can call it the voice of a magical creature. Or we can recognize it for what it is – the echoes of the glory of God as the Holy Spirit sets about the long work of transforming and perfecting a creation that has lost its way.
Tomorrow, Maundy Thursday we will break bread in remembrance.
Tonight, may God grant that we remember why and for whose sake the “bread” was broken in the first place.