Sermon for May 15, 2022

Fifth Sunday of Easter, John 13:31-35

Let’s do a little thought experiment, a little free association. If I say the word “glory” or the word “glorious,” what images immediately pop into your heads? Take a moment to review what comes to mind.

Maybe some of these images appeared on your mental horizons: Spectacular sunsets. Mountain vistas. Maybe opulent houses, mansions, palaces. Skyscrapers. Other great architecture. Great movies or theatrical productions and concerts. Huge crowds. People with big personalities. Celebrities. And more.

Or let’s try this: what words come to mind that are synonymous with “glory” and “glorious?” Again, take a moment to let those words emerge.

Maybe these words appeared in your mind: Renown, fame, prestige, honor, distinction, kudos, magnificence, splendor, resplendence, grandeur, spectacular. More.

Here’s the thing when it comes to our sinful, human condition: It may well be that some of the images of and words related to glory, and the things and people we associate with these qualities, can turn out to be inglorious, burdensome, death-dealing, the fruit of sin, of pride, greed, of hubris, arrogance, unbridled power and domination…

I can’t help but think of supertall buildings being built in many places in the world today – in New York City, Dubai, Shanghai – symbols and incarnations of extreme wealth inequality and sometimes corruption, of human achievement, but also arrogance and pride and raw power. And then I can’t help but think of the Tower of Babel in the Bible. Towers have a tendency to exacerbate confusion, and they are prone to come tumbling down….

Then there’s Jesus’ way of glory and being glorious. Today’s reading from John’s Gospel is part of Jesus’ so-called farewell discourse with his disciples in which he teaches and prays in their presence in the last hours of his earthly life before his death and resurrection. This discourse recorded by John tries to make sense of Jesus’ ways of being and doing that confound worldly logic.

For the sake of beginning to understand Jesus’ way of glory, listen again to this day’s reading from John: “When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in God’s own self and will glorify him at once.”
John connects Judas’ departure with Jesus being glorified. What did Judas go out to do? Judas went out to betray his teacher, his Lord, his friend, the action of which would put into motion all of the horrible things that would lead to a horrible death, but also to a mysterious resurrection to new life beyond death. At first glance, how can any of this in any way be connected with common views of glory?

What Judas intends for death, God intends for and uses to give new life. The bad news becomes good news. And it is, in fact, glorious in the logic of God’s intent.

Jesus on the cross: this is what it is for Jesus to be glorified according to John’s gospel. It’s all very inglorious by human standards when you recall some of the words and images that came to mind in the first moments of this sermon.

But I see this kind of cruciform glory that confounds human logic and sensibilities in each of the readings for today. Let’s take another look for the sake of deepening our understandings of our glorious crucified and risen Lord and Savior.

In the reading from Revelation, we hear about a new heaven and new earth, and a holy city, a new Jerusalem. Quite glorious sounding on the face of it.

But this new holy city comes down to us, to our human level, where God will make a home among us mortals that we may dwell with God, and mere mortals will be God’s people. Tears will be wiped from our eyes. Death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. And there will be water aplenty to quench our thirst.

In popular imagination, glory tends to be up there in the clouds, not down in the lowly and humble places where we have known death and mourning and crying and pain. That God makes a home with us down here is glorious, but in its own cruciform ways.

Then there’s the vision of reconciling inclusion in the reading from Acts in the reported emerging reproachment between Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. The vision had Peter eating that which was traditionally, religiously unclean. But the voice from heaven proclaimed: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

This led to the Spirit’s intervention with this instruction which Peter reports: “The Spirit told me… [to] not make a distinction between [the Gentile believers] and the [Jewish believers]. So it was that Gentiles came to be included in what was emerging as the Christian fold. The new way in Christ finds glory in that which had been considered profane, unclean, outcast. Thus, another example of cruciform glory.

Then there’s also Jesus’ new commandment given to his disciples before Jesus’ departure recorded in today’s gospel: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Remember the context for giving this new commandment to love. It was when Jesus stripped himself of his outer garments, and got down on his knees to wash his disciples’ feet – not at all an image of glory from a human point of view. But glorious nonetheless, again, in cruciform ways.

Each example from today’s readings reveals aspects of Jesus’ cross-shaped glory that turns our logic on its head. When we look up for glory, Christ bids us to look down to the lowly places to find that which is truly glorious from God’s point of view.

And the lowly becomes glorious because in Christ God turned the whole world upside by transforming death into resurrected life, by converting bad news into good news, when the law leads to gospel, and by working with sin to make for forgiveness and salvation.

In Christ, by his death and resurrection, the deal is sealed. It’s done. It is finished. Complete. Perfect. Then the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, gives “water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” This water washes over us in baptism at this very font, a humble point of origin for our participation in the glory of God.

Then also, in Christ coming down from heaven, we are invited to the marriage feast as “a bride adorned for her husband.” This glorious reality we know at the eucharistic table, in a humble meal of bread and wine, where metaphorically we recline in lowliness to eat with Christ, he who also ate with those inglorious by worldly standards, namely, outcasts and sinners, widows and orphans.

Through our sacramental participation in Christ, through baptism and eucharist, and the power of the en-Spirited word, we, too, become glorious in cruciform ways.

And leaving this place, having basked in God’s humble, cruciform glory in Christ, we show forth this same glory in our works of loving mercy for and with those deemed most inglorious by worldly standards, loving these our neighbors with the love that Christ loved us, and we offer the gift of inclusion, of welcome, making no distinction between us and them as is so common in the pretenses of our inglorious world.

In this, we share in God’s work of making old things new. And it’s all glorious indeed in the way of the cross.

Our sorry world needs a sense of God’s humble, cross-shaped glory apart from the false and seductive ways of worldly glory that in the end are idolatrous and ruinous of the lives of people and indeed all of creation.

May the way of Christ’s glory shine forth in all that we say and do, for Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, alleluia. Amen.