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Recollection--St. Edward the Confessor

By Fr. Kevin Fife

We are given two visions of hell in the Gospel readings for the 1st & 2nd Sundays after Trinity. On Trinity I (page 190) we have "a certain rich man" who, dying as much & as surely as the wretched beggar Lazarus died, now in torments sees his earthly life for what it was: torment. The insatiable greed of his flesh was torment whether he knew it or not. More likely, whether he faced it or not.

Being "clothed in purple & fine linen" & "faring sumptuously every day" are relatively "middle class & tame" demons in our time & place, which should ring an alarm in our own soul. The Rich Man's sins are not all that exotic or outrageous (again, at least not to our affluent tastes). The full-blown hellishness of his experience in death is the noxious fruit of the weed of sin he tended in this life, the seed of which is the inheritance of all the sons of Adam.

This Sunday we heard the chorus of excuses from the many who were bidden to a great supper. Rather than faring sumptuously at table every day, the sin of the invitees was having better things to do than to sit at the Lord's Board where all things are given liberally & received humbly. In the certain rich man we see a hell of idle consumption. My time is my own; leave me alone. In the many bidden to supper we see a hell of frantic activity. Get out of my way; I have things to do. These will be the marching songs of Hell, chanted to endless noise (at least as CS Lewis imagines it in Screwtape).

All the Law & the Prophets (the Scriptures we call Old) hang on loving the Certain Man who makes a Great Supper & loving the Beggar full of sores. To drown the inflamed pride we see in these parables, St. John in the Epistle readings for Trinity I & II gives us a vision of heaven. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him (I St. John 4:9). Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: & we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (I St. John 3:16). In both readings, the love of the brethren is the direct proof & substance of Life in Christ (the "theme" of Trinitytide) who gives His Life for His brethren that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (St. John 10:10).

Indeed, he that loveth not his brother abideth in death (I St. John 3:14). Hell is the present experience of the man who does not love. When the fruit comes in at harvest, he will see that the plant he nursed & fed was rotten the whole time. We cannot go with the men who had lands & oxen & wives who called them away from the Banquet & they answered. To do so is to say that time waits for me & heaven can wait, too.

Our marching song comes from another parable: I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants (St. Luke 15:18-19). The Holy Spirit spurs us with the urgency of heaven, not the grinding frenzy of Hell or the self-assured idleness of Death. His golden wings spread in our fragile hearts to set them aglow with the everlasting fires stoked in the Burning Furnace of Charity, the very Heart of the Son of God, which ever answers the & returns the Love of the Father.

We love him because he first loved us (I St. John 4:19). God grant us grace to treasure & adore the vision of heaven we hold dearly yet darkly now, till at the last the fruit we yield to His Hands will be a heart after His.

Fr. Kevin Fife is Vicar of St. James on the Glebe in Gloucester, Va.


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