Repentance in the Final Hour
“A new light…cocks were crowing, there was music of hounds, and horns; above all this ten thousand tongues of men and woodland angels and the wood itself sang. ‘It comes, it comes!’ they sang. ‘Sleepers awake! It comes, it comes, it comes.’ One dreadful glance over my shoulder I essayed – not long enough to see (or did I see?) the rim of the sunrise that shoots Time dead with golden arrows and puts to flight all phantasmal shapes. Screaming, I buried my face in the fold of my Teacher’s robe. ‘The morning! The morning!’ I cried, ‘I am caught by the morning and I am a ghost’.”
In a short book called The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis imagines a soul caught up to the thresholds of paradise. The country is beautiful and sublime like a picture of the Shenandoah tinted in gold. Yet, standing in this country, the man realizes he’s merely a ghost, thin and spectral. A life of sin and negligence left him empty and hallow. Finally, the sun rises in the East. It is the Day of Judgment, the coming of Christ, the morning that all of creation has been waiting. That day seemed far away, but it had come, and the ghost was horrified. Christ had returned and the man had not yet prepared. His final cry is piercing, “I am caught by the morning and I am a ghost.”
When will that day come? Do you ever wonder about it? The other day, I was visiting with Nancy. Dear Nancy has been a pillar in this community for so many years. For over a year now, she has been in bed in her home, remembering, praying, and preparing for the day the bridegroom. My short time with her has been some of the highlights of my priesthood. There is a peace in her room. Sitting by her side, everything down here seems a little ghostlike. All our rushing about, worries, and anxieties feel like vapor in light of the morning ahead.
I will tell you the truth, I often feel jealous of her. She is so close to that next day. The veil between this life and the next is paper thin. You can almost hear heaven calling. Some poets talk about the nightingale in the heart: the song that sings night and day calling us to our maker. Just wonder at it, one day we may really walk into the country for which, in our hearts, we have spent our whole lives longing.
How would you think about time at the age of 90 or 100? What would life look like on the other end, when all this is before you and all of paradise in front of you? Is that Day of Judgment so far away? Is that Second Coming of Christ so distant, when the veil will be torn and we will stand face to face with God? How sweet will it be to kneel at our savior’s beauty, in the richness of His fragrance, knowing that our souls remain with Him at last?
So what do we do now? We repent. The world does not understand repentance. I do not understand repentance. I have only begun to get a taste of why I have so much repentance to do. What is repentance? It is not about beating up oneself, stale bread, and tepid water. Repentance is a life of becoming less and less of a ghost, and more and more alive. Repentance means being deliberate about reaching out to God. We have to thirst for Him.
The Song of Solomon is the favorite book of all the mystics. At the surface, it is a passionate tale of the pining of a lover and beloved. At a deeper level, it is an analogy of the soul’s longing for God. The beloved says, “Let him lead me to the banquet hall, and let his banner over me be love. Strengthen me with flagons, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love” (2:4-5). St. Gregory the Great explains what this means. It is about the soul’s insatiable appetite for God. “Her thirst has become so strong that she is no longer satisfied with the ‘cup of wisdom’…The whole content of the cup poured into her mouth no longer seems able to quench her thirst. She asks to be taken to the cellar itself and apply her mouth to the rim of the vats themselves that are overflowing with intoxicating wine.” The more we experience God, the greater our hunger becomes. The very part of human nature that can make someone into a drunkard is the same part that can make someone a saint. We have to turn our desires, our passions, our eros, towards God.
Our Gospel today brings us to the Parable of the Sower.
“A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.’ As he said this, he called out, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ (Luke 8:5-8).
“Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it.” Christ explains this: “As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (v.14). It does not take a scholar to understand this. We all know what he means to be choked by the cares of the world.
One day in this society leaves you with a hangover. We are all choked up. The consumerism, advertisements, obligations, and interminable rat race are suffocating. A modern philosopher exclaimed, “The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I should reply, ‘Create silence’”. Silence. We all know it. We desperately need silence, not just from noise, silence from everything. We are starving for stillness.
The world gets it. People are paying hundreds of dollars for yoga classes, meditation retreats, and pharmaceutical drugs, to simply shut up the noise. The Church gives us Lent. For forty days, we get this chance to slow down. Will we accept?
What is fasting about after all? The saints all held this in common. The great men and women in scripture all fasted rigorously. But do we care for fasting? I certainly do not like it. I am as addicted to food as the next man. Yet, the church urges us again and again, to enter the fast. Why?
We are addicts. We have become choked up with the riches and cares of the world. Our meats, desserts, noise, and activities have become like thorns suffocating the soil, so that we cannot begin to appreciate the real joy of saturating in the grace of Christ. "He grew fat and kicked; filled with food, they became heavy and sleek. They abandoned the God who made them and rejected the Rock their Savior" (Deut. 32:15). “The thorns grew with it and choked it… they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luke 8:7,14). God wants us to enjoy creation, to savor all things beautiful and everything tasty. Yet, our passions simply get unbalanced. So the Church gives us Lent.
How will God see us at his second coming? Will we be ghosts? Or will we be true men and women? Our life is a fleeting moment that vanishes like the dawn. The sun rises. Now is our chance to prepare.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.