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What is the Glory of God?: The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Sunday, May 15, 2022:
Acts 11:1-18
John 13:31-35

I bring a few questions to the readings today. The first one is pretty mundane: the Gospel begins “when he went out” Jesus begins to speak, with what ends up being a multi-chapter farewell discourse. With our little snippet, it sounds like Jesus has gone out — in this case, he’s risen from the table of what we call the last supper — and then starts speaking. OR, if we look at it in its wider context, Jesus has just dipped the bread in the wine, given it to Judas, his betrayer, and says ‘go do the thing you’re gonna do, and make it quick,’ so Judas leaves. And, “when he had gone out, Jesus said…” So that’s one question. At first glance maybe a surface-level question, but more on that in a bit.

Second question: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane,” from the first reading. We could probably have a very lively discussion about whether you the Gentiles had just been made clean (by the resurrection, or Peter’s preaching, or the coming of the Holy Spirit), or, were they (we) always clean, but this deeper unity (or “community”) between these parties has just been made possible by Christ’s work; so we’re not talking so much about the nature of the Gentiles so much as the chronological working out of God’s plan. That’s my second question. (And it might just have to hang today.)

Third, and today my main question: What’s Jesus talking about? (I guess that could apply a lot of the time!) “The Son of Man has been glorified” (and will be glorified in himself, he says later); what is this glorification of which he speaks? As we expand the lens a bit here a bit past mid-point in John, Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead. Entered Jerusalem to great celebration. More sombrely told the disciples that he’s going somewhere where they cannot go. (Is he talking about going to his death, or rising from death and ascending?) He’s gathered with his friends and followers, and humbly washed their feet, and shared a meal with them. (Is his humility actually his glory? Is his willingness to be betrayed — to open himself up with such vulnerability to Judas and the evil powers of this world, and the fragility of human life (which takes us back to my first question) — is that his glory?

Or do we widen the frame even more, and look at the whole of the Gospel: the miracles, the teaching, his intimacy and identification with God — is that all the glory to which we’re being directed?

A very early bishop of the Church operating in France, Irenaeus, said something that we come across quoted in sermons like this, or on prayer cards, or online, which you might know: “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” A remarkable statement, but not an easy or clear answer to the question, in so far as this Gospel often deals in irony, and so the confident Jesus on the Cross signals his victory already, in his death. The sacrificial love of his outstretched arms that brings all people to himself (even the enemy, or for Peter in Acts, the Gentile) is the human person fully alive, living and loving as we should (but very rarely do).

And so today I simple commend these questions to you. What is the glory that’s being spoken of here? What is the glory of God that is present in the person of Jesus that compels us, and draws us? Are we so preoccupied or drawn to glory in a limited sense as seen in terms of numbers, that we risk missing the paradoxical glory seen on the cross? So what is this glory, and how can we experience it, and reflect it, in our own day, that others might be drawn to it, too? And this Easter season we ask ‘what is resurrection’ — where is that power that raised Jesus from the dead — and how is it at work within and around us, in this time, so far removed from the first century that Jesus knew?

This question about glory is at the heart of the Fourth Gospel, and it’s there right at the beginning: “The Word was made flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…” We may not have been there as witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. And so our wrestling with faith might be deeper and harder than my question about the meaning of glory here… But we do exist in an unbroken tradition (flawed and fallible, but unbroken) of people that have found fullness of life in the person and story of Jesus. And so, though generations removed, we are inheritors of the message of those who did “see his glory… full of grace and truth.”

If the Spirit of God descended on the people that the first members of the Church thought were irrelevant, beside the point, and lost, then if you are looking for a sign of grace or truth, open your heart over the balance of these 50 days of Easter for an experience of the glory of Christ.

Let us pray:

God of glory,
whose Beloved took the shadowed road of death
and found life in the darkness:
may his love be our law,
so that, undimmed by fear,
we may witness to the power of new birth,
through Jesus Christ, the first-born from the dead. Amen.

[Prayers for an Inclusive Church (2009) alt.]

© 2022 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter