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Text: Gracia Grindal Tune: Daniel Charles Damon

Christ welcoming the gathered saints to heaven. Joakim Skovgaard Viborg Cathedral Denmark

Clothed with glory, Christ is coming

from the halls of light

with the multitude of angels--

hosts of heav'n in flight.

He will come to judge the nations,

All creation

lost in night.

Then the King of kings will tell us

how he walked on earth

with the lonely and the hungry--

those of humble birth.

He appeared: an unknown stranger

in a manger,

lacking worth.

Look to see the Lord's appearing,

not just in the skies.

Christ is also in your neighbors--

look into their eyes.

In their gaze, you will meet Jesus.

he will see us

Drawing nigh.

Jesus blesses those who feed him,

give him clothes to wear:

"Come, O blessed of my Father.

Come, I have prepared

mansions in the courts of heaven.

All is given

For you there."


The Last Judgment Michelangelo Sistine Chapel

In the old church calendars, this Sunday was called Judgment Sunday. It featured this Matthew text, Jesus' last sermon. It confronted people with their last days, their last chance, looking ahead to the gathering of all people, and the separation of the sheep from the goats. It could be terrifying to many because they were faced with the finiteness of their lives. They could not escape death when they would have to account for their behavior on earth.


The church in the twentieth century tried to soften the judge image by changing the title to Christ the King Sunday, which soon seemed politically incorrect, to now the Reign of Christ. Looking over the changes, one might think we have made our God too nice, too soft. Jesus as a gentle ruler seems more palatable. Sometimes it feels like people think God wouldn’t do anything they wouldn’t do and since they are all very nice, they would never judge another. Doesn’t Jesus say Judge not?


Well, Jesus did lots of things that we would or could never do. He suffered and died on the cross for us. And we confess every Sunday that he will come again to judge the living and the dead. It is final stuff, the end times. Nowhere is that more vividly pictured than on the wall of the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo. It is frightening image of Christ around whom the judged are swirling.


Jesus’ sermon is rich with troubling sayings. We can read this passage as a conclusion to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Now we see it happening when Jesus says he will show mercy to those who have shown mercy in their lifetimes. It is tempting to make this into a universalist credo—Is Jesus saying all nice people will be saved?

Greek icon of Jesus coming in glory

That is a bit too easy. Frederick Dale Bruner, my favorite commentator on Matthew, argues this might mean that those who have never heard of Jesus have seen him in the faces of those they have served—and by extension in this teaching--served him. All who will be saved are those who have seen him as Lord. Those who have not confessed him as Lord, whether by word or deed, are consigned to hell because they relied on their own righteousness, not the Lord’s. In other words, they have not submitted to his rule as Lord and King.

Then there is the cry of both sides--when did we see you? Bruner argues that if they need to see something like a picture of Jesus in those they are serving they will miss him. Rather like the man clinging to the roof during a flood, but refusing any help from ordinary people because he has been promised the Lord would rescue him. When he dies in the flood and arrives in heaven, he accuses the Lord of not keeping his promise, he replies, "Well, I sent three boats!" Christ is hidden in the neighbor's face, but he is there. And those who serve the neighbor, serve him and acknowledge him. Thus far Bruner.


Jesus commends actual service to the neighbor—those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, suffering in prison. It is easy to feel good about oneself for favoring policies to get this done, but then drive by the poor and indigent on our way to church, something I do regularly. This sermon always convicts me as I drive by. Does my tithe help them? I justify myself as I move on. Will I be justified by my own smug sense of being right? Not in this sermon!

A younger person I know argues that if the church is to revive in the West, it must do what the church did in its very early years: show mercy to the neighbor. The early Christians served those who were poor and indigent, those who were hungry and thirsty, and ill. They helped widows and orphans, saved the babies Romans abandoned on the hills outside the city, and gave them families. They worked hard to improve the daily lives of their neighbors as they preached eternal life with the Lord. Many who did this in early Rome were pious rich widows who fervently worshiped Jesus. Their work made Christianity appealing to the Romans because it gave them better lives, Rodney Stark argues this in his book on The Rise of Christianity (1998). We would do well to heed that example.


No matter where we end up on this issue, and the theologians have gone round and round on it since the beginning, for those of us who know his name the message is that Jesus is Lord. In order to be with him forever in his kingdom, we must confess him as our Lord and King. He is the center of our faith. Having Jesus as our Lord means obeying him. And what he tells us in this sermon, is that we are to be merciful—as Luther would have it--serve our neighbors. Happy Judgment Sunday!

Daniel Charles Damon


This hymns is the last in the A Gospel series of lectionary hymns on this text. Daniel Charles Damon wrote tunes for all those hymns. The entire collection of nearly 700 hymns is called A Treasury of Faith. Dan is a retired pastor living in the Bay Area, a fine composer and writer. He has been a wonderful collaborator of mine over the years and I owe him many thanks! He has been named a Fellow of the Hymn Society and works as an editor fo Hope Music publishing company.


Daniel's tune has not been recorded. You can hear much of his music here. The text can also be sung to the tune CASTLEWOOD.

For the Treasury of Faith collections follow this link to Wayne Leupold editions.









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