Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Where is His glory now?
Though we like to think we are well connected, most of our communication today is mediated. We look less into the face of people when we communicate; instead we email, text, tweet, facebook, etc., instead of face to face conversation. The recent story of the Notre Dame football player and his facebook girl fiend who prove to be a hoax reminds us of the limitations of mediated communication. It is easy to know people through the media but it is also easy to be deceived, not knowing who it is you think you know.
How we know the Lord is an important question. While we are tempted to think that we can only know the Lord in a mediated fashion, Scriptures insists that we know the Lord face to face through the means of grace. There He has hidden His glory just as it was hidden in the face of Christ, in the suffering of the cross, and in the triumph of the resurrection. There He gives Himself to us for where He is, there is His glory. While the form is not the same as Moses on the mountain or Jesus at His transfiguration, we know the Lord through His self-disclosure – not mediated by the mind or thoughts of another. This is what Hebrews tells us. In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old but now He has spoken through His Son. God, who is His glory, once mediated His presence to His people, but now, in Christ, He comes, the fullness of the godhead, as St. Paul says. Where Christ is, there is God and there is His glory.
In the Old Testament no one wanted to know the Lord face to face. They lived in fear of God's holiness in the knowledge of their own sin and unworthiness. When Moses came down from meeting the Lord face to face, the people feared him as much as God. He had to veil his face to hide the reflected glory of that encounter. So for thousands of years God showed Himself in bushes that burned without being consumed, in thunder from the heavens, and in miracles that defied explanation. That is, until God showed Himself in His Son and Jesus showed His glory to His disciples.
No one comes before God on their own. Only those bidden by God can come to Him and know Him. Jesus tells us this bluntly. Even the disciples did not presume but waited for Jesus to invite them to come with Him to the mountain top. They were startled by it all because it was unsettling to them to encounter God in His raw and untamed glory. For the Old Testament people of God, the glory of God was a curiosity and not a common occurrence. It was as much an occasion of fear as joy. But now in Christ, God’s glory is no curiosity or rarity. It is as regular as the Word that is spoken to us and the Sacraments given to us.
When God sent forth His Son into flesh and blood, God broke through all the barriers. Once for all, once for us, God would show Him self to His people – not as the other worldly God no one could know but as the God who made Himself known in flesh and blood. God has come and born His face to the world in the person of His Son. Jesus Christ is the glory of God, incarnate, for us and our salvation. He does not lead us to some greater glory; He is that greater glory, only whispered about before. He is the saving glory of God.
God has come to us as one of us that we might know Him in the most intimate of ways. Jesus teaches us to pray to Him by the name "Father." By these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our dear Father and we His dear children. God has come to reveal Himself to us that we might know Him as He is. He comes in Christ not as a symbol or a sign or an analogy or comparison. He comes to us, the fullness of His divine nature, there in flesh and blood.
God's glory is not some alien identity but His Son incarnate to save us. God's glory is His love for us, love that was glimpsed on a mountain until it would be fully revealed on a cross.
There is God's full saving glory. And the fullness of that cross, all its benefits and blessings to us, He has placed in the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. Here the Spirit works so that our fear might be relieved and we come to Him, see Him, and believe in Him.
The great danger is for us to think of the Word of God and the Sacraments as mere ritual, symbol, or sign that points us somewhere else. These do not point to something other, they are the means of grace, they deliver to us God's Son and God's Son delivers to us the Father, while the Spirit works in our hearts to comprehend by faith this great revelation.
God's glory is not in His works but in Himself; and in His Son. His Son is not somewhere out there but in the concrete of the Word that speaks and sin's shackles fall away, in the water that pours life upon us as it unites us into Christ, and in the bread and wine that give to us Christ's flesh for the life of the world and His blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.
Because of sin, God remained hidden until He could make Himself known through His Son. The law and the prophets held up this hope until His Son came to us in flesh and blood to fulfill their word. Now the same Lord comes to us through the Word and the Sacraments. In this way every Sunday is our mountain top moment in which the hidden glory is revealed to us and for us for our salvation. We are the privileged to whom God has shown Himself, revealed Himself, given Himself. The glory once hidden is made plain. It is there even in the seeming defeat of the cross and the seeming darkness of death. It is there in the humble shape of Word, water, bread and wine. These do not point us to Christ. They deliver Christ and His saving glory to us. Amen.