The last day, the final encounter

By | October 5, 2011

A last day will come for each of us. This Sunday’s Scriptures present two very different final encounters with God. Isaiah presents the great prophetic feast of heaven that not only includes a satisfying meal but also the personal addressing of hurts and then God’s final vanquishing of death. It would be hard to enjoy a great feast for eternity if our eyes were full of tears. In contrast to this is our Lord’s parable describing the hellish end of some who will experience the “wailing and grinding of teeth.”

The parable images someone being cast out of the feast, bound hand and foot, for not being dressed in the proper “wedding garment.” What is going on here? Though interpretations vary, it seems that the parable foretells many persons amassing in the wedding feast hall to await the arrival of the bridegroom but not everyone in the end prepared to stay for the banquet. In Scripture the bridegroom is God. Jesus explicitly described himself as the bridegroom.

Since ancient times this wedding feast hall has been often understood as the church proper, though not exclusively. The church awaits the final return of the bridegroom to complete the heavenly union of God and humanity made possible by the death and resurrection of Christ. All is ready. The parable suggests that although one can be seemingly in the hall this does not mean that one is prepared for the final feast. One can be in the church but not prepared at all to be with God. What is this wedding garment? Saints have noted that it is a prophetic foretelling of baptism and the conformed life of discipleship that emerges from it. Many are baptized but not all become converted disciples.

Contrasted to this is Isaiah’s very moving description of our final encounter with God. The food is great but more importantly is the direct address by God of our deepest hurts. In the vision, God destroys death. In this destruction is the implicit understanding that the dead to whom we have given our hearts will return to us and we to them. Secondly, God himself wipes away the tears from every face. No one walks this life without tears and great questions. The consolation of Isaiah’s vision is that God himself will wipe away each tear, even the big ones, and address personally the hard questions we’ve wanted to ask.

What will be the response to our God after he wipes our tears and addresses our sorrows? My guess is that there will be great satisfaction and renewed everlasting confidence in the Father and a love for him that this life has perhaps not known. We will be able to say on that day with Isaiah, “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”

Questions for Reflection

1. How have I changed the way I live so as to be better prepared to meet God?

2. What still needs to change?

3. What tears am I grateful God will personally address?

Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.

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