Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sharing His Glory

All mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them.  St. John 17:10

For a few days back in 2012, everyone in Cooperstown, New York had Olympic fever.  Team USA banners hung in all the shop windows, people wore Olympic buttons on their lapels.  The Chamber of Commerce sponsored a watch party and there were drink specials in the local bar. 

We were all so excited because Sarah True, one of our own, was going for the gold.  Sarah was then America’s leading triathlete, and she had grown up in our village of 2000 souls.  Her parents still live in town, working at the local hospital.  Sarah had swum across the Lake on the edge of the village when she was 14, and competed on the high school track team.  Her old coaches and babysitters could remember how it was when she was just so tall.  

In the end Sarah finished fourth, ten seconds short of a medal.  But when she finally made it home, we paraded her down Main Street as a hero, with firetrucks and the high school band, proud as could be that one of our own had achieved something so incredible. 

Behind our excitement was a sense that Sarah was carrying a little of all of us into her great moment before the eyes of the world.  Some people felt they had helped to form her for this moment, for others her triumph was showing us just what could be possible for a kid from a little town in upstate New York.  We had a little share in her glory, and for one unique moment, that was a thrilling thing.

Today’s Epistle Lesson is the account of our Lord’s Ascension, His great moment of glory.  Jesus is honored by the Father with a spectacle worthy of the feat He has accomplished, reconciling the world to God through His death and resurrection.  Jesus is acclaimed as the victor and rises through the clouds to the place of honor.  He is crowned and adored by angels.  If it all reminds you a little of winner’s platforms, gold medals and cheering crowds, you wouldn’t be alone, because New Testament writers use the metaphor of a victorious athlete more than once[1] to give us a hint about just what this moment is like. 

Jesus was looking ahead to this the night before His passion.  Our Gospel lesson records His prayer: “Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.”  Jesus wasn’t performing for the crowd’s acclaim.  His gaze was fixed on an audience of One.  His true desire was for the approval and delight of His Father. 

The Son had shared in this glory before the world was made when, as Saint Paul assures us, the plan of salvation was established.  The Father looked upon the Son in love and expressed His confidence that the Son could do all that was needed and do it well.  He went forth to free humanity from sin, to destroy the power of death, to reconcile humanity to God.  His food, Jesus told His followers, was to do the will of the Father and He listened intently upon the Father’s word.  His mission could not be completed until He had returned to the Father’s presence and been assured of His good pleasure. 

C. S. Lewis described Jesus’ hunger for the Father’s approval, this longing for glory as a desire “to please God, to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness, to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son[2].”

Lewis also says, and I think he’s right, that this is a universal desire.  All of us, deep inside ourselves long to hear that word of delight and approval from the One whose pleasure we most deeply desire.  To be sure, this desire is twisted and blunted in many of us, and it sometimes bursts out in ways that can be embarrassingly crass and self-focused. 

What we really need, to know that we matter profoundly to God, that He takes delight in us.  We long to know that our weak and misdirected lives might someday add up to something that would be pleasing to Him.  And this is just what Jesus promises and then secures by His own Ascension and glorification by the Father.  He confesses in today’s Gospel, “All mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them.”

Jesus will be glorified in us.  He’s not speaking of some deeply felt but ultimately abstract connection.  It’s not like the pride I felt in Sarah True’s achievement while knowing I would never stand on the Olympic platform.  We don’t just admire Christ in glory.  We know that we are bound for the same destiny.

We are members of His Body.  All who trust in Him and are baptized into Him are united fully with Him.  We are bound together with that same humanity in which He flung open heaven’s gate and took His place on the cherubim throne.  Where He is, there we will be also.  It is as Leo the Great wrote: “Christ's Ascension is therefore also our own, upon the glory of the Head rests the hope of the body.[3]” 

I don’t know how it is for you, but for me, that word of divine approval often seems so very far away.  When I look at myself honestly, I see so much that does not please Him.  There are many aspects of my life where I seem deaf to His call and turned against His will.  When I look at my brothers and sisters, fellow members of His corrupt and divided church, I am often deeply disappointed.  There is so much folly, hypocrisy, and indifference.

But we will share in His glory.  This He has promised.  We have been chosen to belong to Him before the foundation of the world.  He fills us with His grace.  He is working in us by His Spirit.  He is drawing toward Himself with that same strong love that carried Him from the cross to the gates of heaven.  “I am sure,” Saint Paul wrote, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.[4]

Each of us is an unfinished project, but God has already begun a glorious work in us.  A true understanding of this would transform the way we treat one another.  In the same sermon I quoted earlier, C. S. Lewis also remarks, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”  Would we look differently at the man begging for coins in the middle of Falls Road or the confused woman shuffling down the nursing home hallway, if we remembered that Christ will be glorified in them?  Would we be more patient with the demanding child, more responsive to our lonely neighbor if we could hear in their voices an echo of the Father’s word of approval. 

Together with them and with Christ the ascended one, we are bound for glory.  The path on which we stumble ends before the Father’s face.  We too will hear His good word: “You are my beloved child.  In you I am well pleased.[5]”  “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.[6]

[1]e.g. Heb. 12:1-2.
[2] Lewis, “The Weight of Glory.” (1941),, 6.
[3] Sermon 1 De Ascensione Domini c. iv
[4] Philippians 1:6
[5] Matt. 17:5
[6] Matt. 25:23

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