A Vision of the Last Judgement, William Blake (1757–1827), 1808

Fr Neil’s homily for Remembrance Sunday (Trinity XXIV), 14 November 2021

Then he will send out his angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of earth to the ends of heaven.¹

Our readings, in anticipation of the beginning of Advent, describe in rather dramatic terms the signs that will mark the start of the end times.

There will be chaos, darkness, trials and tribulations, especially for the elect. It would seem that evil, the devil and his legions will have their final rage before Christ returns in all his glory to install the new creation.

Judgement will be given, the saints taken up into glory and all the enemies of Christ ‘should be made a stool for his feet.’² Daniel refers to this as the place of ‘shame and everlasting contempt’³ for their rejection and active rebellion against the ways of God.

Our Lord’s teaching in the Gospel seems to hold together two tensions. He uses the example of the fig tree to remind us to keep our eyes open and be aware of the signs of the times so that we might be ready for the last days. However, he finishes by also stating that, ‘but of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’⁴

Certainly what we should take from this is the need to be mindful of spiritual and heavenly things and not be so caught up with the things of the world that we ignore the reality of the four last things: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Christ longs in his love for all humanity that we should not blindly walk into our last days, having neglected the reality of what is to come. We would be like the foolish bridesmaids, failing to bring oil for our lamps.⁵

The drama of the Last Days seems current in every generation, even if we do not make the connection to heavenly realities. Many of our current generation exemplified in the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ and ‘Insulate Britain’ believe that in a few years the world will burn bringing mass extinction and suffering. In the same way, my generation lived with the Cold War and anxiety of the threat of a nuclear holocaust.

This Remembrance Sunday we are mindful of those who were caught up in two World Wars, and other conflicts since, which brought death and suffering on a scale never seen before. And perhaps if we were in the trenches or the Blitz, we might well believe that fire was engulfing the world and we were in the last days.

War is the final failure of civilisation. Complicated as it is for the individuals engaged in war, evil is revealed in acts of terror, initiated violence, the dehumanising of certain groups of people and seeing the death of others as the answer to a problem.

War is also a moral failure, because it demands in the light of an aggressor the defence of family and the virtues of freedom, autonomy and self-determination. This defence may require the taking of another person’s life and maybe the loss of one’s own to protect our loved ones and our way of life.

Therefore it is with sorrow and thanksgiving that we honour so many who had to pay the ultimate sacrifice to defend the freedoms of later generations.

The failure of war begins with the failure to reflect honestly upon ourselves. There is indeed a war raging in the spiritual realm as our readings indicate and — whether we like it our not — we are, due to the Fall, significantly involved. Our greatest enemy is ourselves if we cannot stand before God with all humility, and reflect honestly about who we are.

We are indeed beautifully and wonderfully made⁶ in the image and likeness of God⁷ but we are also flawed creatures. Sin active within us is a call to death — if left unchecked it leads to the destruction of ourselves and those around us. We will all have examples of this destructive behaviour in a number of people we know.

The greatest danger is when we refuse to acknowledge this inner struggle and fail to take responsibility for it. If we will not accept that our troubles are, in the main, internal to ourselves then we have to find reasons and causes outside of ourselves. It must be someone else’s fault. That is not to say that others haven’t contributed to our hurt and pain and in some cases significantly. However, healing and rising out of that place of damage can only come from a transformation of our own inner life.

If my only means of self-identity is that of “victim” then it is so easy to transfer our damage and acts of self-destruction on to others, “outside there somewhere”. It is why we get suicide bombers, as the killing of others will somehow make it alright. It is why ‘Insulate Britain’ will block the M25 demanding the government insulate all homes while failing to insulate their own.

It drives the push to moderate language just in case we accidentally offend a person, even if what is said is scientifically true. Indeed the Scottish government have removed ‘pregnant women’ from official communications⁸ because certain people might be offended. While having every sympathy for those struggling with their self identity, the last time I looked only biological women can get pregnant.

The failure to face before God the internal spiritual battle becomes the seedbed for the atrocities that have to be faced down in conflicts around the world. Obviously we need a supportive structure for society, but the transformation of the world begins not with changing other people but changing ourselves. I know what the worst version of myself can be like and the damage I could cause and I don’t like it. I want the best part of me to flourish so that those around me can flourish too.

It is in this difficult but honest assessment of self, that cries out to God for mercy, where lies our best preparation for either the Last Days or our own last days. It is by our humility before God and his unmerited grace that we shall hope to be numbered among the elect who are gathered by his angels to the glory of heaven.¹

¹ Mark 13:27
² Hebrews 10:13; cf Psalm 110:1
³ Daniel 12:2
⁴ Mark 13:32
⁵ Matthew 25:1–13
⁶ Cf Psalm 139:14
⁷ Genesis 1:26
@scotgov tweet