Setting goals in life is a good thing. Goals keep us focused and when attained they give us a sense of accomplishment. No goal-less person will feel any sense of fulfillment or accomplishment. We all have goals. On a given day, the goal might be to rest and relax, so that even if nothing material is accomplished, we’ve accomplished a goal of recharging ourselves. Some goals are goals of necessity. Like having a goal to shop and cook today, or get laundry done. Because eating and cleanliness are necessities. Some are goals of achievement, like getting into college or getting a promotion at work. We want to achieve a certain level of status. We set social goals as well, like getting married, or having a family, or having a close group of friends. Financial goals are part of life, whether that is paying your bills, saving for a trip, or putting money away for retirement.
The most important goal in life is to be judged worthy to enter into eternal life. That is THE goal. Because what do one’s achievements, social status and financial strength matter at the end of life? None of those things goes with us. The only thing that goes with us are the spiritual accomplishments that pave the way for us to stand at the right hand of God when He judges all who have ever lived.
The Bible gives us glimpses into what heaven is like. In Luke 16: 19-31, we read the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In the parable, Lazarus is in heaven and the rich man ends up in hell. The rich man cries out from hell, as he sees Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, asking that Abraham allow Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and offer it to the rich man, who is in anguish in the fire of hell. Abraham responds that a chasm has been fixed between heaven and hell so that those in heaven cannot pass to hell nor can those in hell pass to heaven. The lessons here are that hell is estrangement from God, although those in hell can see heaven and know what they are missing. Those in heaven are in the bosom of Abraham, a loving embrace where they are safe and happy. And those who are in heaven and hell cannot move from their respective places. Those in hell cannot ever get to heaven, and those who are in heaven will never fall out of heaven and into hell. The final assignments are exactly that, final and permanent. One will either have eternal life or eternal punishment.
The Bible also gives us a clear picture of what happens after we die and before we end up in heaven or hell. There will be a judgment on every life. In Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus tells us that “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one form another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left.” (Matthew 25: 31-33) The judge of eternal standing will not be us. There is a temptation to “preach people into heaven,” to speak about them in such high esteem and actually say they are in heaven. There is also the temptation to condemn people into hell, to speak about them in such condemnatory terms and actually say they must be in hell. The judgment of who goes to heaven or hell belongs to God. The preparation to stand at the judgment seat belongs to us. That we will one day stand there is the common destiny for everyone.
Jesus speaks of six specific metrics upon which He will judge us—feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and ministering to those in prison. He doesn’t merely tell us to do these things a few times in life, or to do them just to “check a box” to stay on His good side. He tells us that we are to do these things as a way of life, that in serving to the least of our brothers, we are serving Him, and when we ignore the least of our brothers, we are ignoring Him.
The hymn we are reflecting on is a prayer to the Lord. Unlike many of the hymns of Holy Week, which are instructional, this hymn is a hymn of supplication. In it, we ask God not to separate us from the sheep, and not to number us with the goats. In the hymn, we recognize that all of us are hardened in sin to some degree. If we really internalize the words of this hymn, it would lead us not to shame but to humility, to realize that no matter who we are or how much good we do, we are all hardened in sin to a degree. Therefore, we all need God’s mercies.
This leads to the second hymn which serves as the prayer for this reflection. If it looks familiar, that is because it is one of the “pre-Communion Prayers” which are offered at the Divine Liturgy. It also is a hymn of supplication, as it reminds us that no one is worthy to enter into the splendor of God’s saints. The only way to enter is by the Lord cleaning the impurities of our souls and saving us.
Going back to where we began, regarding goals, if the most important goal in life is to be judged worthy to enter into the Kingdom of God, then every day put us one step closer to the judgment, and thus the goal of every day should be to do the things that prepare us to be numbered among the sheep at the judgment. It means leaving the “perverted” things of life, the things that distort God’s image and imprint on us, and to do the things that are expected of the sheep. For instance, when we curse, or lie, or get angry, the image and imprint of holiness on us is distorted. Thus, we need to be truthful, speak good things and seek peace—these things restore the fallen image. These are the things that prepare us to stand at the awesome judgment seat of Christ, and which will ultimately lead to a judgment by Christ that we are worthy of everlasting life.
Into the splendor of Your Saints, how can I, the unworthy, enter? For should I dare to come into the Bridal Chamber, my vesture will reproach me, not being a wedding garment; and bound, I shall be cast out by the Angels. O Lord, cleanse the impurity of my soul, and save me. (~Praises, Bridegroom Service, Holy Monday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
As we set goals and mark accomplishments each day, let’s not forget to set spiritual goals and along with our achievements, to have spiritual accomplishments. Because the ultimate goal is to be judged worthy to enter into eternal life!