Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Weight of Glory

Sometimes you get a recommendation for some reading so fervent that you just know that the work will impact you. While discussing C.S. Lewis' works with friends last week, I was exhorted to read his sermon "The Weight of Glory" and was so caught by it that I have been turning it over most of this week in my mind, and have already passed the recommendation on to others.

It is a sermon full of hope for a future where what is now imperfect will be made glorious, where we will stand (or maybe dance!) before our loving Father, totally stripped of all that now bears us down and free to rejoice before our Creator, pleasing the one we were created to please. I can't really imagine now what that will be like, but the moments when I glimpse even the tiniest speck of what awaits us, are enough to fan the flame of eternal hope, that one day I will know it truly. Lewis suggests that a glimpse or scent of heaven may be all that this world can ever offer us, after all, we have only earthly imagery with which to consider heaven, and so even the scriptural picture is  symbolical - it cannot convey the full weight of the reality, but only suggest it in small and insufficient ways. In some ways I find this shocking - surely Scripture should make clear to us what is promised? But Lewis says that this insufficiency, this lack of immediate attractiveness is

"... just what I ought to expect. If Christianity could tell me no more of the far-off land than my own temperament led me to surmise already, then Christianity would be no higher than myself. If it has more to give me, I must expect it to be less immediately attractive than 'my own stuff'."

My first thought on reading this section was that there are some aspects of the Christian faith that it is very hard to see as attractive at all, or if we do see them as attractive it's because we haven't fully understood them. I was reflecting on this in relation to the story of the disciples James and John, and the request they make of Jesus: "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." James and John want something that is in the world's eyes very attractive, to sit on either side of the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth, to be the closest ones to the seat of power and glory. What they are actually offered, the way that Jesus calls them to follow, is to drink the cup that he will drink - the cup of suffering - the cup that Jesus asks the Father to take from him in the garden. The road that Jesus walks, and the one that he invites James and John to follow him on, is the road to the cross. There is nothing immediately attractive about this offer. Jesus doesn't even soften the blow by saying "once you have drunk from this cup you will sit with me in glory". No, the joy that awaits is hidden here, it is what Lewis describes as "the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both." 

The cup that is offered to James and John, foreshadows another cup, the one that we drink round the table, that brings Life to the Church. I wonder also whether there is also an echo of the cup that we will share with Christ in glory, feasting round the table of heaven - for Christ does promise that he will drink the fruit of the vine again with us in his Father's kingdom, when we shall see him face to face - what joy awaits us there! So although we know that the cup offered to James and John, and indeed to each one of us as we seek to follow Christ, is one of pain and suffering, still are we able to declare with David "My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." The cup that we share together contains the taste of heaven.

The image of the cup is at first sight not attractive, for it is the cup of Jesus' blood, shed on the cross. It points to the agonising death of a good man. But it contains joy unimaginable, for Jesus poured out his Life that we may have life in its fulness. Jesus' death opened the gates of heaven, so that what we see now only dimly and taste only briefly, will one day become our reality, and we will see him face to face, and rejoice that we are his and he is delighted in us.

The Weight of Glory, full text:

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