Wednesday, 24 January 2018
“THE quick and the dead” is a phrase which first appeared in William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the New Testament, (2 Timothy 4:1) and which Thomas Cranmer then used for his translation of the Nicene and Apostles creeds for the Book of Common Prayer and was therefore recited by the great majority of observant Christians in England at least once a week.
It occurs where the creeds say of Jesus: “He ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
This is about the second coming of Jesus and the day when he will judge the living (the “quick”, nothing to do with sprinters) and the dead.
Part of Christian thinking in Advent, which is where we currently are in the church year, is the conviction that one day justice will be done. Done completely, with absolute clarity, by one who has all the relevant information and no bias, no vested interests.
This is good news. Human justice is always limited. The Grenfell Tower inquiry has 200,000 documents to consider, each of which is a distillation of someone’s testimony. Even at best, inevitably some who deserve blame will escape it while others will receive more blame than they should. It will, we hope, be good enough. But for many millions of people there will be no justice in this life.
Will Robert Mugabe escape because he has stepped down? Will Slobodan Praljak escape by poisoning himself in the courtroom? No, the Christian confidence is that justice will be done, that there is no hiding place even in death.
For the oppressed, the forgotten, this is good news.
The standard by which we will be judged is Jesus himself. That, too, is good news. He is astonishingly forgiving — remember those words from the cross? “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
He died there for our forgiveness. In his teaching and by his example, he cuts through our self-deception and shows us who we most deeply are and that we are loved.
If you want to find out about yourself, read the four gospels (they are rather short!). Let them challenge, irritate and encourage you as they help you ponder your relationships, your money and how you use it, your children and how your raise them, your heart and its idols.
Remember, the child whose birth we are preparing to celebrate has grown up and one day will “come to judge the quick and the dead”. Let the judge himself prepare you for the test.
18 December 2017
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