SMC – Easter 5 2019
Well, here’s something I never thought I’d sing from the pulpit, “Glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur!” And I only do this because I want to speak about ‘glory” this morning, but I suppose ending fourth in the league isn’t too bad as well.
Jesus says in our Gospel today, “Now has the Son of Man be glorified, and in Him God has been glorified.” Glory is something magnificent and supremely beautiful but there is also in the word ‘glory’ something about this being recognised and well known. And this important part of the definition is also seen in the Greek word used in the Gospel as well as in our own English word. The glorifying of Jesus is His death, Resurrection and Ascension, these events we are celebrating at this time of the Church’s year, these very public events. They are not a series of events but one entire act of redemption, from Maundy Thursday, the night of betrayal, to the Ascension, of final victorious return to His Heavenly Kingdom. God sees them all as one and we are to as well. God sees everything in its entirety: “a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past” says the Psalmist (Psalm 90:4).
The Church adopts this understanding of time also when she thinks about the Mass. We might ask ourselves the question of when specifically the bread and wine that I shall place on the altar in a few moments time cease being simply bread and wine but become the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ? We mustn’t reduce the Prayer the priest says to some sort of magic trick but it’s a perfectly valuable question as to when the change happens. The answer is that the whole of the Eucharistic Prayer from when the priest says “The Lord be with you” until you then respond, “Amen,” the whole prayer consecrates but it is especially the words of the Saviour, the Dominical Words, that create the change “This is my Body … This is my Blood.”
The coming together of time and glory is seen in our second reading, from Apocalypse 21. The full revelation of the glory of God comes at the end of time with the new Jerusalem “coming down out of Heaven from God, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband.” We’ve all known that tingling feeling of excitement when we turn round and see a bride dressed walking down the aisle, someone we’ve known for years or become very fond of, looking her absolute best. That same tingling, that same excitement is surely how we will also feel when we come to the full realisation in us all to be that bride, prepared for our husband, who is Christ. Tears are wiped away. Death is finally ended. The glory of God is revealed.
It is something that we get glimpses of here on earth. Think of the Visit of the Wise Men who by the light of a star are led to bend the knee and worship Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). We see it too in the Transfiguration when Jesus’ outward appearance changes in the presence of Moses and Elijah. Peter, James and John enter the cloud, the sign of God’s presence. They desire to prolong this glorious vision and so St Peter requests, “Lord let us build three tents” (Luke 9:26-38). It’s the glimpse we get at Mass: we have to look hard and not be distracted by others or be discouraged by the fact that it looks like bread and wine. Yes, beneath those signs is the flesh given for the life of the world.
The reason for the transitory sightings of the Lord’s glory here on earth is given in the Parable of the Tares surely (Matthew 13:24-30)? You’ll remember that seed is sown and then while everyone sleeps someone comes along and sows weeds too and they grow up together. The slaves want to remove the weeds, but the Master says, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them.” Here the patience of God, which is our opportunity to be saved, is revealed. We are given here a chance to flourish, to seek and to find God’s purposes for us. We will need patience and perseverance in our spiritual lives. God could have sent Christ to earth as a fully developed adult, ready to die on the Cross instantly, but that’s not part of who God is. The years of weakness of being a babe dependent on Mary His Mother and St Joseph; the hidden years of adolescence; the years of teaching daft disciples and being accused of blasphemies; these were all part of God’s patient plan, waiting for the appointed time, for the Lord’s hour to come.
The delay is because renewal is needed before we can have a full vision of this glory, hence the need for a new Heaven and a new earth that we saw in Apocalypse 21. Now, there wasn’t anything wrong in God’s creating of the first Heaven and the first earth but this world is one where we have allowed sin to take a hold. Redemption is this earth’s ultimate destination. This requirement for renewal is spelt out also in the Gospel when our Lord says He gives us a new commandment: “Love one another; just as I have loved you.” St Augustine comments on this passage that it was not a new commandment in the sense of not having been uttered before, after all we find it Leviticus 19. It is rather new in the sense that we are to be renewed in our living out of it.
And then the dwelling of God shall indeed be among men and women. When St John describes what he sees in his revelation here he uses an important word for him. This “make his home among them” is one word in the Greek and one St John used in his Gospel when he described Jesus being born for us, the Word being made flesh. For there St John wrote that “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory” (John 1:18). The word ‘lived’ there is the same word as “make His home among them.” So, that which God is going to do in Heaven, He did two thousand years ago by being on earth for us. Isn’t that tremendous?
There has long been a connection between God’s presence with His people and His glory. Rabbis commenting on the Old Testament and Christian scholars have termed this the Shekinah glory of God, from a Hebrew word meaning ‘to dwell.’ This abiding glory is in the cloud where God goes before His people during the Exodus (14:19). It is the glory through which the Temple built by Solomon is dedicated. The priests go in to bless the Temple and the cloud comes down and fills it so much that they cannot stand “for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (I Kings 8:1-13). It is the glory long awaited by the prophet Isaiah when he writes, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you,” (Isaiah 60:1-2). And whatever glory we know belongs to God our Father, belongs also to God the Son, Jesus Christ, for they are One.
That God chose to abide with us can perhaps make us overly familiar with His glory. It might be like if the Queen moved in to stay in our home, it’d be amazing at first but constantly bowing to her and saying, ‘Yes, your Majesty,’ after the first few weeks might be tiring for even the most ardent royalist. Somehow - and rather counter to our instincts - we are to become used to the divine being among us and realising it is no less special a privilege to be here in the presence of God even though its quite easy for us just to pop along to be here, with the glory of the Saviour broken in bread for us, poured out in wine for us. Let’s all be careful just to remind ourselves of the holiness of God, His awesomeness, His immensity, His wonder, His eternal glory and know this to be present in the tabernacle and in a few moments on the altar and in a few more moments on our tongues.
Know how privileged we are to be entrusted with this. It’s why we kneel during the second half of the Eucharistic Prayer, and kneeling isn’t the same as sitting. But know this too that this glory is to fill the whole earth. After all, the context of the Gospel reading today when the Son of Man speaks of His being glorified is when Judas has gone, gone off to betray Him. So with us, in those tricky situations you might be facing, those times betrayal, those things we read about in the newspapers or see people getting their knickers in a knot about on the TV: all these places and situations will eventually be redeemed, not necessarily today - though the Lord may return today and we’re to be ready for that - but in God’s good time. We are to be patient, and then the glory of the Lord shall fill the earth and then we’ll realise the full stature of our unique vocation as Christians: to give God the glory, to worship and bow down. Amen.