Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Are you on the list? I don’t mean my Christmas Card list, or (writing this on Census Day for most of the UK) the register of householders, or the algorithms which predict our shopping needs and wants, or the NHS system which invites us for our Covid vaccine. God’s list – the Book of Life which records who will be saved to be a resident of the new Jerusalem on the day of judgement, or cast into the fiery pit after a brief resurrection. Are any of us on that list? What might we have done to have inadvertently opted-out?
Revelation offers a vivid picture of what happens after the last battle between the forces of good and evil, when the ultimate judge will open the ledgers and start the reckoning. For the beleaguered Christians of the first century it would have been both an inspiration and a warning, calling them to choose between allegiance to God’s kingdom or succumbing to participation in the Roman emperor’s cult. This powerful register is mentioned in various places in the Hebrew Scriptures, often highlighting ways in which individuals are blotted out from it. In his letter to the church in Philippi Paul speaks positively of his co-workers “whose names are in the book of life”.
We face choices, sometimes speaking up against the wickedness of empire on which judgement is needed and at other times commending those individuals in whose lives and actions we see God’s love shining. Those who follow John Wesley’s rule of life: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
God of grace look kindly on me when I stumble and trip up. Confront me with my failings and show me ways to restoration. Shake my complacency when I am dazzled by the comforts of empire, so that my name may remain in your book of life. Amen
The Revd Fiona Thomas, freelance facilitator, member of Christ Church Bellingham.