We shall see him as he is – THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER 2012

Let me begin with a little piece by someone called Beth Webb:

 

Of course

if we could see God,

we wouldn’t be lolling lazy in pews

or thinking about the vicar’s ears,

or whether our shoes hurt.

If – we could see God.

 

Of course we have faith!

We come to Church:

‘happy are those who believe without seeing’…

(why does that woman let her boy

pick his nose?)

… hush, listen to the wind sighing

in the silence

… put your finger here and look at my hands

… look at me

(in Liturgy of Life, edited by Donald Hilton, NCEC 1991)

An awful lot of religion is very mundane, ordinary, this-worldly. Community, family, friendship. Flowers, grass-cutting and tea-rotas. Hymns we like to sing; memories of childhood. Rules for living; doing our duty in the station to which God is pleased to call us. Collections for charity and illustrated talks by missionaries. Vestries and Synods; speeches and essays; sermons and reports. Comfort when sickness and death strike. The fairy-tales and miracles of scripture look good in books of Bible stories and stained-glass windows.

Then you get something amazing such as today’s Epistle reading.

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. (1 John 3:1ff)

 We will see him as he is. In the Johannine writings, we read first of all that no-one has ever seen God, and then that Jesus the Son makes the Father known. Here the writer is saying that those who have believed that in Jesus they see the Father will one day have faith turned into sight, belief into experienced reality. “And our eyes at last shall see him.” We sing that with gusto every Christmas, but do we reflect on what we are saying? The mystery at the heart of everything, beyond our senses to experience, beyond our mind to grasp, beyond our imagination to describe – this mystery we shall one day see face-to-face. This is the goal of all our religion. The purpose of all those mundane things is that “we shall see him as he is”.

The epistle writer tells us three other things. First of all, we are children of God. That is a word of relationship: and the end of that relationship is the seeing of God. It is not something we can do for ourselves, it is a gift of God’s love. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” Even now, among all those ordinary things, we are each one of us God’s children, and he wants us to grow like him until we reach our full potential. “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” In Christian art, the halo over or around the head of the saints represents this transformation, this reflection of God’s glory. There is a halo in store for each of us!

The writer has a word of advice for children of God who wish to “see him as he is”. “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure“. We can’t transform ourselves but we can respond to God’s love by cutting out whatever is contrary to that love. More than anything else, 1 John emphasises that “God is love” and that the only sure way to love God (whom we have not seen) is to love our brother (whom we have seen). All those mundane church activities form the arena in which we learn to love each other and in which we purify ourselves by repentance.

Some words from the medieval hymn “Adoro te devote”.

O Christ, whom now beneath a veil we see,

May what we thirst for soon our portion be:

to gaze on thee unveiled, and see thy face –

the vision of thy glory and thy grace.

 

 

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