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Thought for the week - 10 March 2024

At last, the gloom is lifting! Three weeks of Lent, the darkness of the vestments and the tone of the hymns is changing slightly, reminding us that even though this might all Be Good For Us, it isn’t always much fun and another week of hymns reminding us how bad we are would have thrown me over the edge even more than I already am. We get happy words today, even if they are couched in metaphorical and nocturnal darkness. One of the most important words in St John’s Gospel is ‘glory’; right at the beginning we read that ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son…’ Jesus Christ is the revelation of the glory of the Father. And that glory is beheld especially when Christ is ‘lifted up’ on the cross – that’s very Lenten, and very Johannine, the idea that glory comes from suffering, so maybe there is a point to Lent after all.

In this idea of glory, John is changing the meaning of the Greek word that he uses. Changing or transforming things is a hallmark of our faith. That word is ‘doxa’, and in the normal Greek of the time it referred to your reputation, being well-thought of, or ‘fame’ or of course, the opposite, being thought of as a pain in the neck, or constantly dragging others down to shore up your doxa! It’s something to do with what people say about you, something noisy, creating a persona from your energy or negative energy. Whereas in the Gospel, glory is something not noisy (can you imagine that the Transfiguration made a noise?) but shiny, glorious in a still, golden way. This is the Jewish notion of glory, the visible manifestation of the greatness of God. Moses saw the glory of God on Sinai, and later that same glory was seen to enter into the temple that Solomon built for the Lord in Jerusalem.

So divine glory is not about reputation, which is second hand. It’s not about what people say about you, which may or may not be true. It’s not something you can find on Love Island or I’m a Celebrity – it’s a lot more beautiful than that. Divine glory is something self-evident, something that stares you in the face. You can’t miss it because it’s not like anything else, and we can occasionally sense it right here, because we come to find it.

Saint John has found this doxa and he’s quite clear about it. At the beginning of his first epistle he says that what he’s talking about is ‘what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands…’ and he makes us aware that when the doxa, the glory of God drops itself into our field of vision, we cannot ignore it – that’s why we come back, isn’t it? Kind of chasing the dragon, looking for the way we felt when we first really believed, but also knowing that we are not expecting to find that again, the gift has been given, and discipleship does not entail a continual opening of presents, but a time when we start to give them to others, to give out what we have received. That’s why this glory, this doxa, is incompatible with the Greek idea and indeed our modern idea, of fame and celebrity – Kylie Minogue, for all her undoubted good points, does not demand a life changing decision from you, nor expect you to give away your concert tickets. Indeed she would be quite content for you to be completely indifferent to her – you have no need to choose to be for or against her. Although you may feel differently about the Kardashians.

However, you are required to make a choice about faith, about God, about this Christ who is lifted up, because He has not only redefined the meaning of ‘glory’, but also redefines how this doxa/glory can be revealed in a most dramatic way – on the cross. The crucifixion is the moment of decision – a decisive moment for him, of course, when he made the choice of obedience and thus proved himself indeed to be the Word made flesh. But a decisive moment for us also, the time to choose between good and evil, light and darkness in a decisive moment when the Father allowed the Son to be raised up, and that lofty vantage point between light and darkness, good and evil, the garden of Eden and the dead land of Calvary says to us ‘open your eyes, share my vantage point, look at what I look at’ because as St Paul says ‘God has raised us up with him’.

We share therefore in that glorious light of the world, and the Church, our Mother, guides us in that work, not seeking her own glory, not seeking to be greater than anyone else, but calling us to share in that one equal light that we share, that one equal glory that we share with this man on a cross, giving ourselves for others, living in the light, and no longer chasing the dragon of our first belief, or of fame or noisy fortune, but finding our home in this hose of doxa, this house of Glory, our mother church and our family unit.

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity: in the habitations of thy majesty and glory, world without end. Amen.


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