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Reform Magazine | October 21, 2017

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Editorial: A strange kind of glory

The focal point of my church is a stained glass window depicting the risen Christ. Hands raised, wearing a crown and robes,he gazes down on us from the heights of glory.

It’s not an image I warm to. Perhaps in time I will come to understand the feeling it embodies better, but at least for now it seems far distant from the man I meet in the Gospels. The friend of tax cheats and sinners and mentally disturbed sex workers. Humble, homeless, misunderstood, worn out speaking to crowds and counselling seekers. The man through whom God entered into the mess of human life.

I noticed a couple of things for the first time as I was reflecting on this year’s Easter readings from the Gospel of John. One is that so often John’s Gospel sounds as if it is going to end with a scene like our stained glass window. Jesus keeps looking forward to the hour when he will be raised up in glory – and yet, when Jesus finally says that the hour of his glory is come, he is talking about being betrayed and executed. His elevation is on the pagan gibbet. The finale of John’s story is not Jesus being enthroned in heavenly glory, but Jesus presenting the injuries inflicted on him by the imperial troopers to doubting Thomas, who now finally gets it, saying: ‘My Lord and my God.’ This, John seems to be saying, is the glory by which we know our God – wounds, damage, defeat, abandonment, humanity.

The other thing I noticed is that Jesus is called a king something like nine times in John’s Gospel (depending on how you count it). Once is at the very beginning by his disciple Nathanael; once is by the crowds on Palm Sunday; all the others are at his crucifixion. This, John seems to be saying, is what it means to call Christ king, this his exaltation. The only robe given to Jesus in John’s story is the one the soldiers mock him with; his only crown is the toy crown of thorns; his only enthronement is being hauled up on a cross, his bones nailed to wood, naked, with a sign over his head saying: ‘Here’s your king, Jews’. This is our King, and the hour of glory which John’s story promised is humiliation and degradation and death.

It’s a strange story and one I don’t think I’ve got my head all the way round. But what I hear in the story is that the glory of God is not a light that shines splendidly down from the sky at us, it is the light God brings into our murky corners and terrible nights, the light of his presence in our loss and despair and damage. Maybe it has always been there, but we have not always seen it, and we have never grasped it so clearly, seen it in such brilliance, as on the cross.

On Sunday morning, the sun rises, thank God, with healing in his wings, and may we all feel its warmth on our faces. But the light was already shining in the darkness.

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This article was published in the May 2017 edition of  Reform.

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