Glory – One Step at a Time
I have long been fascinated by the term “glory.” It’s a word often heard in the Bible, but just what does it mean? What is the Glory of the Lord? What does it mean if something or someone is glorified? Are there different types of glory? Does a phrase like “Give glory to God” mean to offer praise in words like “Praise God” or “Thank Heavens?” Or does it mean something else?
It’s a word that has many dimensions. Dictionary definitions include abundance, wealth, honor, treasure, majesty, brightness, and the presence of the divine. Other meanings include pride, arrogance, boastfulness, or taking great pleasure in something. It can be a personal quality that makes an individual worthy of praise. It can be described as a light shining from a being or person of great holiness. In art, we often see halos around the heads of saints and angels, visually indicating their holiness.
The word can also be used as a verb – the boxer gloried in his triumphs in the ring! Or, in a different sense, the teacher gloried in the success of her students. The mystic gloried in the presence of God in nature.
Phrases such as “Give glory to God,” when used in Scripture, can have another meaning that is culturally specific. For example, in the story of the man born blind and healed by Jesus, the authorities were demanding, “Tell us the truth – confess that you have sinned, that what you are claiming is not true!” The notion of praising God was intimately tied to being truthful. The man’s refusal to recant his account of the healing was actually totally consistent with what they were asking of him. They just didn’t recognize it as such!
The Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Easter brought these reflections on the word glory to mind once again. In his account of the Last Supper, John tells us what happened after Judas left the table (Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35). In this Gospel, Jesus is very much in control of the narrative of what is happening and aware of his unique relationship with the Father. John quotes Jesus: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” The relationship becomes mutual – “If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once.”
There’s a lot of “glory” going on in these few brief words. Knowing what was coming up next for Jesus, it’s rather remarkable to think that his passion and death were the route to glory. And it will happen at once? A rather daunting image…
Jesus continues, making clear the crucial factor for his followers here. The fundamental characteristic of the followers of Jesus is to be their love for each other. In fact, it is so fundamental that it becomes the “new commandment.” To love each other as Jesus has loved us. That is the root of glory – a community of love.
But how can that happen? When will it happen?
The readings from the Acts of the Apostles (14:21-27) and Revelation (21:1-5a) give us a hint.
Last week we heard about the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas to the city of Antioch in Psidia. Their preaching had mixed results. Gentiles were more open to their preaching than the Jewish community was and eventually they were expelled from the city. The moved on to Iconium, then to Lystra, and Derbe. In each city, they spent some time, teaching and sharing the good news. But it was not all sweetness and light. In one city, Paul was stoned and left for dead. In another they fled before the crowd could stone them. Nevertheless, by the time they retraced their steps to return to Antioch in Syria, there were communities of new believers in each area they had visited. They returned to each community of believers as they passed on their way, teaching and encouraging them. They selected and appointed leaders from among the members of the community and asked the Lord’s blessing on their behalf.
When they returned to Antioch in Syria, they reported on their journey and all that God had accomplished. They didn’t brag about their success. They reported on what God had done in opening “the door of faith to the Gentiles.”
One step at a time, for many years, Paul, Barnabas, and other Christians traveled through the known world, spreading the word of God’s love, building communities of followers of the way, and sharing the wonder of the Lord’s glory, reaching beyond Israel to all humans.
This mission was urgent for the early church. Jesus was expected to return very soon. They needed to be ready and to share the news of God’s love and reconciliation with all people as quickly and as widely as possible. There were many bumps along the way. Plenty of challenges and conflicts to work out. Much reflection on what had happened and what it meant. But under it all, there was a sense of urgency. The Lord is coming soon!
When the second coming didn’t come as quickly as anticipated, more reflection was needed. The reading from Revelation presents a deeper and newer understanding of what it means to say that Jesus is with us always. If he’s not visibly present, where is he and when will we see him? This reading presents a new reality.
A new heaven and a new earth – a new holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. In this great vision, John explains that God will now live with humans forever. They will be his people. He will be their God. Eternity begins here and now. Tears will be dried away. The old order is gone.
In the old Jerusalem, God was present in the Temple. In the new, there is no temple. The city, the community of believers, is the dwelling place of God.
The end does not have to come immediately. The One on the throne declares: “Behold, I make all things new.” It is already begun here and now.
Glory shines forth from the ordinary, the everyday, the one-step-at-a-time of our lives. When we care for each other, when we care for the earth and its creatures, when we notice and smile at another person, the glory of God shines forth.
We don’t consciously see the light shining forth in these encounters. Our eyes aren’t tuned to see it. But if we are attentive, we notice the love and affection and “a certain something” that is present. Similarly, at times when that love is blocked or denied expression, we notice that too. Again, we don’t physically perceive the loss of that “light,” but we feel it if we pay attention.
This week, let’s reflect together on the ways and times in our lives when the glory of the Lord shines through. Let’s rejoice in health, endure suffering patiently, and trust that with God among us, all will be well. One step at a time, we’re on our way and are taking our communities and our world along with us.