The Sunday of the Last Judgement: Meatfare Sunday
But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak… So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
We are given liberty in Christ. But Christianity is, at heart, a religion of communion: communion with God – but that communion with God is only ever experienced (except in rare cases) as communion with each other, here. Our healing, our salvation, our purpose in life is found in the other, in the stranger, in the person next to us, in our neighbour. The Lord says to “love your neighbour as if he was your own self.” In essence: that person over there is me. I am not. He is.
I am defined in my relationships, only.
My personhood is only present in communion with others.
You do not define me (that would be judgement) and neither do I define me (that would be pride). Rather: our relationship defines us.
Paul hints to this in the Epistle today. Jesus touches on it in the Gospel: At the Judgement we shall be judged on our relationships to others as if each relationship to another was to Jesus himself. As if each action we make is somehow for or against this inter-personal communion and as if each action, therefore, effects our relationship with God.
I was 38 before I did something that I’ve regretted for years and can not undo.
Each of us must have a story of “the one that got away”, but I have a story of someone whom I drove away.
And I can not undo it. And daily I regret doing so; live with guilt over doing so, even though I know he is unabashedly more happy now than ever he would have been with me. But I was an ass and I caused him pain – not once but twice in the break up – out of my own pride and my own inability to love back. And I deserve what I get for that, what “karma” I pay for that. And I shall be asked on Judgement day about that.
There are a number of sins that I shall be asked about, I’m certain. The questions won’t be about rules I broke, per se: none about fasting or commandments or mitzvot. Rather, I shall be asked how I made each relationship better or worse. Did I feed or clothe those whom God has given me to love? Or did I send them away scratching the dirt?
The EPistle today makes it clear: we don’t give up meat today and for all of Lent because eating meat is a sin; but rather we do so to train ourselves to love our neighbour. This process is painful. It’s a struggle. But in the end we set out to heal by God’s grace all the things we’ve broken by our own pride. Some of the healing can be done in this life – and some not at all.
Healing, don’t forget, is just another word for Salvation: and no one of us can be saved alone. Salvation is a restoration of that communion we enjoy fully in God.
There are those who read the Gospel today to refer only to other Christians (specifically, in the first century context, to Christians in prison for their faith). There are others – including me – who read these verses to refer to *anyone*. This latter reading forces us to consider those who are not up to snuff, who are not really “Our sort”. Nudge nudge, wink wink.
There are many who don’t want to hang out with “my sort of Christian” (Define that however you will). But these verse don’t ask me to consider that: instead even if they want to make me stumble and fall – I need to take care not to make them fall.
In the light of today’s Epistle, the questions at the last judgment are not summed up as “Did anyone make you stumble?” but rather “Did you make anyone else stumble?”
CS Lewis has his Tempter Demon, Screwtape, say this:
We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials–namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the ‘low’ churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his ‘high’ brother should be moved to irreverence, and the ‘high’ one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his ‘low’ brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility.
Now – be mindful that for those reading the book in situ, the language of “altar” vs “table” or “mass” vs “holy communion” were issues of idolatry vs irreverence. They were clearly doctrinal issues related to salvation. To us they might sound silly but these questions hold exactly the same place in their time that questions of sex and sexuality hold for us. Questions of sacramentology and praxis are exactly the same issues as sex.
How do we deal with Church in such a way as to avoid saying “we’re right and they are going to hell”?
My first project this lent to to ask forgiveness of the person I harmed. My goal is to get that done this week or next, in our liturgical context of Forgiveness Sunday. Will he forgive me? I don’t know. Will God?
I believe God will ask him first.
How will each of us fair on Judgment Day? Let us each ask our neighbours.