I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one
In the best movie of all time, The Princess Bride, the Sicilian crime boss Vizzini, watched as the beleaguered Westley took a horrible fall. “He didn’t fall!,” Said Vizzini, and then the tag-line, “Inconceivable.” To which our hero, Inigo Montoya replied, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”
We might want to let Inigo preach this morning.
We talk about glory a lot in church, but it might not mean exactly what we thing it means. Of course, we know that the creation myth depicts glory because creation is still glorious. But, there is also the the glory of the Lord that filled the tabernacle. There’s the glory of Jesus revealed at the transfiguration, and there’s glory in the resurrection and ascension too. I like to think of God’s glory as something yellow and orange, warm, encircled with a ring of glitter. I am almost certain that God has a ring of glitter around her glory, aren’t you?
But, what if glory doesn’t mean what we think it means?
Let’s look at a couple of other times when the New Testament writers spoke of glory: The nativity, the first sign at Canaan, and the reference in our reading today.
At the nativity, the shepherds were out in the field looking out for the sheep when suddenly an angel of the lord “came upon” them. We usually think of this angel as a figure in the sky, swooping in to announce the birth of Jesus. But, while it can be used to mean stand over like a swooping angel would, it can also be used in other ways too. The New Testament speaks of fear and pain “coming upon” people, armies have “come upon” cities in battle, and lots of people simply went up to Jesus and the same term is used, they “came upon” him. The one thing that “coming upon”, ephistemi, always means is to be present with. What if that angel in the field wasn’t flying at all? What if he was down on the ground, present with the shepherds? That certainly speaks more to incarnation and the mission of Jesus than a heavenly light show.
We know that the angelic appearance was about glory because in the very next verse it says that “the glory of the Lord shone round about them,” and it was such a foreign and unknown thing that they were scared of it. We are not used to having glory shine around about us, after all, and neither were those shepherds. Soon, a bunch more angels came and they were all singing about glory. Presence and glory might be connected.
Fast forward about 30 years and we find Jesus at a wedding in Cana. Weddings in those days were multi-day affairs with lots of food and lots and lots of wine. Here’s the thing, though, the wedding party ran out of wine. This was a disaster for the host. So, there was some talking and some miracle working and Jesus turned plain water into really good wine, saving the day for the wedding hosts. Here’s what’s interesting. The Bible says that this was the first of Jesus’s signs and that it manifested his glory.
We talked about this sign several months ago and noted that, except for the wine itself, there was nothing to see: No waving of hands, no fireworks, and certainly not anything that looked like glory. The miracle itself was hidden and the result was nothing more than wine. It was not the creation of the cosmos, or the transfiguration. The presence of Jesus simply made it possible for everyday life to continue. There might be a connection with everyday living and glory.
We have made odd connections before. This is the same Jesus, remember, who entered his kingdom riding on a colt and ascended his throne by being raised up on a cross. Things are not always as they might appear in the Bible.
That brings us to today’s reading. This passage is part of Jesus’s prayer for his disciples and for all of us who believe in him through their witness. So, it is a prayer for us. There is a lot of confusing praying about God being located in Jesus and Jesus being located in God, and you and I being located in each of them. Jesus asks for this so that we may believe and so that we may be one, not with one another but with God and Jesus in the trinity. Look, you can’t talk about the trinity without wandering off into some kind of heresy, but trinitarian heresy had not been invented yet and so Jesus continued with his prayer that we should all be one in the life of God. Then, Jesus continued, “Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
Do you think that Jesus is really interested in us seeing his bright orange and yellow, glitter-tinged nimbus? Or, could it be something else? If that is all it is, a glory trip, then what kind of God is that? It doesn’t add up.
As is often the case, the answer has something to do with love. God loved Jesus and that is why he gave him glory… presence… the ability to see God in everyday living. The glory of God can be about bright lights, sure. There’s that. But, glory can also be a cup of wine, saving the honour of someone who has run out of wine; it can be about presence, showing up when it matters most.
This passage is often used as a pretext for ecumenical councils, for trying to get all us unruly Christians on the same page. We want everybody to agree about same-sex marriage, and the Filioque. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could just agree… with us, of course! But it might just be that God has already answered Jesus’s prayer and that we are all, with all our different ideas and interpretations, already living inside the wild whirlwind of the trinity? How would our great councils and discussions be different if, instead of asking what we can agree on we asked, “How can I love you so much that you see Gods glory?”
The glory that Jesus wants us to see isn’t glittery. It’s mundane. If we can just see it, there is glory, real glory, Jesus’s kind of glory, in sharing a cup of wine, in sitting quietly in God’s presence, or being present to one another.
Be mindful and you’ll see it. Show up for your life and you’ll live it.
Linda McMillan is back from a writing hiatus. Currently writing in Shanghai, China.
On a personal note:
I will take the liberty of making a note of personal privilege to thank all those Speaking to the Soul writers who filled the Sunday slot these past few months for allowing me to have some personal time. We are all quick to fill-in for one another, but you all gave me an extended absence, and a much-needed one. I am grateful for your generosity and friendship. I have enjoyed your essays! Thank you.
Some Notes of Possible Interest
Genesis 1… Creation story
Exodus 40… Glory filled the tabernacle
Luke 2… The nativity
John 2… Wedding in Cana