It is easy to not take spirituality seriously.  The immaterial is easy to ignore.  The rewards or punishments are off in what we tell ourselves is the far-off future.  There will be time to get serious later.  There are things to do or enjoy right here, right now. 

This is the mentality today’s shorter passage describes when it talks of people “who took their religion for distraction, a mere game” and who were instead “deluded by worldly life” (7:51).  If we are honest with ourselves, this mentality is easier to fall into than we might like. 

Maybe that is why we need reminders of the Judgment Day that is to come.  Many of us don’t hear that much anymore, do we?  But such a day is coming.  Jesus talked about it (more on that later).  In today’s passage the Qur’an gives an interesting glimpse into the end of time from which this surah derives its name.

The Qur’an describes it this way: There will be men sitting high along some sort of cliff looking down into the Garden of reward and the Fire of punishment (if you wish, see Ali’s comments on the identity of these men: angels, prophets, or the soon to be judged).  These two eternal destinations are separated by a high barrier no one can scale.  These men call down to the people in what we might call Heaven and Hell beckoning them to say whether it is as they were told.  Both the “people of the Garden” and the “people of the Fire” say it is.  The men call down peaceful blessings on those in the Garden and then taunt those in the Fire — “Where are your worthless idols?” and “What help are your many companions?”  The people of the Fire call out for food and water but receive none.  They acknowledge “the Lord’s messenger” [Muhammad] was right after all, but to no avail.  They ask for a second chance, but there is no hope.    

Jesus described a similar situation this way:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.  Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.  The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers.  Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)

Jesus describes it as a great chasm, not a high barrier.  Still, the point is the same.  There is a time coming when people will go one of two ways.  At that point it is too late for a change of direction.  There are no do-overs.  Decisions are made and destinies are sealed.  The time is now to decide what will be done with Jesus. 

And as we will see over the next few days, the Qur’an was saying the time is now to decide what you will do with Allah and his prophet Muhammad. 

The Qur’anic context aside, now is the time.  On Wednesday, many Christians throughout the world will shuffle before clergy who will mark their foreheads with ash and remind them that “From dust we came, and from dust we will return.”  Are we remembering this?  Or are the many amusements of this world distracting us to death?