Friday, July 07, 2006

Numbered Among the Just

There have been a lot of “there are two kinds of people in the world” jokes going around. My favorite one is this: There are two kinds of people in the world—those who think there are only two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t! At the final reckoning, however, there really will be only two kinds of people in the world: the just and the wicked. It may be (or seem) that at the present time there are many shades in between, but the searching light of divine truth will clarify everything on that day.

We recently prayed a short memorial service on the anniversary of the death of the mother of one of the monks. It’s a service we have done many times over the years, but this time something struck me in a way it hadn’t before. The petition is not particularly eloquent, and is actually a rather standard expression of prayer for the deceased, yet it was quite powerful when we sang: “number her among the just.” (The experience was more a feeling than a thought, so I may have some difficulty articulating it.)

Perhaps it is so powerful, so solemn, because it is ultimate. And since the final separation leaves only two kinds of people, it is absolutely imperative that we be numbered among the just. When a person’s life on this earth comes to an end, there is no more that can be done to secure “a good account before the awesome judgment seat of Christ” (something we pray for often in our services). It is finished; the testimony of our time, our one chance in this world is complete. And what is the result, the verdict? Did we follow the Lord, were we faithful, did we repent of our sins and do our best to live in faith and love and obedience to God’s will? May we be numbered among the just!

The just are the saints, the saved. They are already with God; their place in Heaven is secure forever. They have nothing to fear on the day of the Final Judgment. Here below we waver; we fall down and get up and fall down and get up again. Our hope and trust is that as long as we continue to get up again, our falls will not result in our being numbered with the wicked. Yet despite our best efforts to trust, we know that it is still possible (not by some unforeseen technicality or divine caprice, but by our own free choice) to lose what we’ve been given, to lose what God has offered. So when our loved ones die we pray—hard—“number them among the just!”

What an immense relief we will feel, what joy, what a sense of victory over everything that weighed us down, sidetracked us, defiled us, tried to rob us of our heavenly inheritance, when we are at length numbered among the just! The meaning of our existence will then eternally unfold in all its beauty and glory. Of course, to be numbered among the just then, we have to be numbered among the just now. We won’t be numbered among the just if our lives testify otherwise. It is awe-inspiring just to think of the terrible finality of the hour of judgment, yet so wonderful to realize that, numbered among the just, our joy can never be taken away, our happiness is safe and sure—forever!

God knows, the stakes are high. That is why He sent his Son into the world, to teach us the way of wisdom, to blaze a trail for us, to re-open the gates of Paradise by his atoning Sacrifice, and to invite us in through the forgiveness of sins and the gift of grace. Let us strive to shed the damning dead weight of the world’s seductions and everything that could keep us from rising to the Light of heavenly glory and peace. And let us pray:

“O God of all spirits and all flesh, who have destroyed death, overcome the devil, and given life to the world: O Lord, grant rest to the souls of your servants who have departed from this life, in a place of light, happiness, and peace, where there is no pain, no grief, no sighing. And since You are a gracious God and the Lover of Mankind, forgive them every sin they have committed in thought or word or deed, for there is no one who lives and does not sin. You alone are without sin; your righteousness is everlasting and your word is truth. For you are the Resurrection and the Life, and the repose of your departed servants, O Christ our God, and to You we give glory, together with your eternal Father, and your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen!”