Trinity 18 – Waiting for the revealing of Jesus

You are not lacking in any gift,
as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who will confirm you to the end,
that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In these final Sundays of the Church year, we are considering the highest stage of the Christian life, the life of holiness, the life of a recovery of the image and likeness of God in our soul, and leading to a closeness with God that is described as the contemplation of God, the beatific vision of God, or entering into God’s rest, or entering into a mystical marriage union with God.  This highest stage is put before us not to discourage us, if we’re not there yet, but that we might aspire to it, be encouraged to draw closer, to keep looking up, in expectation of glory.

Last week, we were reminded by Jesus in the Gospel, that when you are invited to a marriage feast, you should take the lowest seat, and wait until you hear the words, “Friend, come up higher.”  We cannot force God to reveal himself to us, it is a gift of God that we may be lifted higher.  This is a change from an earlier stage where we can be more active in putting away sin and vice and seeking the life of virtue.  We cannot force God to lift us into the heights.  It is something like in friendship and love with another person, we cannot force closeness with another, we need to humbly wait to be invited – Friend, come closer.  But in human affairs it is often about waiting for the establishment of a certain trust, with God it is not about trusting us, but a necessary readiness in the soul to behold such glory.

In the Epistle this morning [1 Corinthians 1:4-8], St Paul speaks to the church in Corinth, reminding them that they are waiting for the revealing of the Lord Jesus, who will sustain them to the end, that they may be guiltless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, in other words, when he returns in glory.  There is more than one appearing – they are waiting for his present appearing now, and they are sustained by him between now and his final return at the end of time.

I think we could agree that every church congregation comes Sunday by Sunday with an expectation of seeing Jesus more clearly even now.  I hope you have this expectation today – think of the Greeks who came to Philip and asked, “Sir, we would see Jesus” [St John 12:21].

If we have gone through a kind of painful purgation of our souls from outward sin and have moved to a kind of inward purging of our thoughts.  If we have been illuminated inwardly with His Spirit, and are following in the path of virtue, we still might not see Him yet, in fact we may sometimes feel at a distance from Him.

There is literature through the Christian Tradition that speaks about this time of silence from God as wait.  Are we willing to continue to love God even if we don’t experience his consolations, his revealings?  Jesus encourages us to wait, St Paul encourages us to wait, the saints encourage us to wait, not to turn back to Egypt, to worldly ways, not to turn other gods in our impatience, in our disappointment, but to wait, and to trust that God is continuing a mysterious work in our souls, a work we cannot see, but a necessary preparation before the fuller vision, a fuller experience of union with God.  e.g. St Thérèsa of the Child Jesus, spoke of this experience as Jesus asleep in the boat (in the soul) – and that we must trust that there is a mysterious working happening in the soul, a maturing of our love. [Beautifully described in the first chapter of When God is Silent by Luis Martinez]

In the history of biblical interpretation of this path of our sanctification, Origen, a 3rd century theologian, noticed a kind of hierarchy of maturity in the three wisdom books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon.  Dr Ineke Cornet pointed out this passage in our Christian Classics night last Friday.  This is from Origen’s prologue to his commentary on the Song of Songs:

If a person completes the first subject by freeing his habits from faults and keeping the commandments — which is indicated by Proverbs (a purgation) — and if after this, when the vanity of the world has been discovered and the weakness of its perishable things seen clearly, he comes to the point of renouncing the world and everything in the world [Ecclesiastes], (illumination) then he will come quite suitably also to contemplate and to long for the things that are unseen and are eternal (2 Cor. 4:18). (union) [Song of Songs – love poetry describing the union of Christ and his bride, the Church, or God and the individual soul]

Origen, Prologue to the Song of Songs, p.235-236.

In the Gospel this morning [St Matthew 22:34-46], the Pharisees test Jesus on what is the most important commandment.  Jesus responds by telling them what they know to be true – the two great commands to love are found in Deuteronomy (6:5) and in Leviticus (19:18).  If we think about the ten Commandments – the first 4 relate to our love of God, the final 6 relate to our love of neighbour.  Jesus says they are all of one piece – the love of neighbour is like the love of God, because in loving our neighbour we show our love of the One who made them.  Jesus is saying plainly that he has not come to teach some different righteousness – the Law of Moses is true, there is no higher righteousness than that which was taught by Moses.

Our waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a waiting in love.  Do we love him just for what he does for us, for the experience his consolations, or do we love him for who he is?  Is this why we need sometimes simply to wait before he appears, until we mature in our love?

Illustrated look at Phylacteries, two small black boxes with black straps worn by observant Jewish men.

The Law of Moses, the high command of love is a high thing for us to contemplate.   Some devout Orthodox Jews to this day, following Deuteronomy literally, have the devout practice of physically putting this law of Love, God’s Law, in a small box on their forehead and tied to their arm when they pray  (see right).  This is a godly thing.

But the Law is not an end in itself.

While Jesus had satisfied the Pharisees in their test of him, he tests them about who the Messiah is.  They say he the son of David, that is, a descendant of David.  Jesus then quotes from a particular verse from one of the Psalms of David [110], a psalm that the Jews had seen as referring to the Messiah.  Jesus shows them that it clearly refers to the Messiah being David’s Lord, so how could he also be a son, a descendant of David?  Jesus is saying that the Messiah is a descendant so far as he is human, but he must also be God.

We follow the Law of love.  Like the Jews we keep before our minds, the perfect Law of Love – we hear it Sunday by Sunday at the beginning of our liturgy.  But we also keep before our minds the man Jesus Christ who came into our midst.  We can keep him there before our minds, in our minds, by reading about him, by thinking upon him, by using the Jesus prayer [“Lord Jesus Christ son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.”].  We reflect on his earthly life, his words, his miracles, his death, resurrection and ascension.  Our liturgy helps to bring before our minds his death and resurrection, and Jesus gives himself to us in the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood.  We are being led by a kind of ladder in our minds and hearts to the inward contemplation of God himself, from his human nature to his divine nature, from the things that are seen to the things unseen and eternal.

This is what our moral perfection is leading us to.  This is what Jesus is encouraging us to do, he is saying, look higher, don’t stop with being remade, look at me, look at my Father.  Love us and enjoy us forever!

We may be hindered this morning in that loving contemplation of God from hurts or pains in our bodies or souls, and we will have opportunity to bring them before Jesus, asking for his healing, both through anointing and prayer ministries offered now and in the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood given for us.

You are not lacking in any gift,
as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who will confirm you to the end,
that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen +