Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. (John 17:1-11)
When people are near death, if they know it, and if they can talk about it, they most often speak in profound simplicity about what really matters to them. They speak about what is most important. And this is true for Jesus, who speaks these words, from today’s Gospel lesson, just prior to his being betrayed, then tried, then crucified, which he knew was coming. What are Jesus’ last words about? They’re about glory: that he would be glorified by the God whom he calls “Father,” and that he, in return, would glorify the Father.1 It’s like a light shining into a mirror, which in turn reflects the light back to its source which, in turn, reflects and receives and reflects and receives so that the light’s beginning becomes it end. Jesus says he looking to reclaim his glory, the glory that he had in the Father’s presence before the world existed. Those are Jesus’ last words, last wishes: glory.
Glory, or to be glorified, is to teem with God’s light and life and life. It’s to draw from the deepest waters of life, how the psalmist prays: “For you are the well of life, and in your light we see light.”2 The Gospel writers speak of glory as if someone were simply luminous, irradiated with God’s light and life and love.3 It’s like what happened to Jesus when he was transfigured on the mountaintop. He looked up to the heavens and he received so much of God’s light and life and love that his face shone like the sun. 4 That’s how the Gospel writers describe being glorified.
Jesus, in his last days, in his last wish, is looking for glory. But here’s the catch: it’s not for himself. Jesus is looking to reclaim glory for you, to glorify you. He prays to the Father, “The glory that you have given me I have given them,” that is, given to you here, given to me: glory.5 This is Jesus’ gift for you. Now a gift only becomes a gift when someone receives it. I could say, “I have a gift for you. Here it is.” In actuality, what I have for you is really not yet a gift. It becomes a gift when you receive it. Up until that point, what I have for you is only a promise, or an intention. It becomes a gift when you can take hold of it. Jesus has a gift intended for you – his gift of glory – and this gift will make a world of difference how you live your life. Grasp the glory. Here’s how:
Dare to enjoy your life. Laugh at squirrels. Gaze at flower petals in their most intricate colors, and forms, and fragrances. Eat slowly enough to guess the spices. Listen for the oboe at the symphony. Watch your cat watching; scratch your dog’s chest. Experience what good architecture does for your soul. Notice the difference in color between the light of dawn and the light of dusk. Notice how shadows make life so much more interesting. Wink at yourself in the mirror. Hum. Turn off you radio or IPod and hum. Hum from memory; hum up something new. Watch children playing. Risk being silent. Revere your body as a miracle and delight in what your body can do, what you hands can do, what your fingers can do, what your index finger can do. How many things can your index finger do? Listen for birds and choose your favorite bird call, your favorite that day. Recall the road less traveled that you have taken that has made all the difference. Say “thank you” at least a dozen times a day. Take a sip of tea, and put your tea cup down; when you’re ready, take another sip. Find an outdoor fountain and watch the flow of water. Repeat after me: “rubber baby buggy bumpers,” or make up your own tongue twister and try it out at a dinner party. Close your eyes and fly like you could when you were a child. Retrieve something old, something that you had almost forgotten. Create something new. Remember who it was, that first person who got through to you, who convinced you that you could do it. Reclaim your most notorious failures, and what good has come out of them. Find something that makes you laugh. Go to a museum and visit one gallery, one only, and stay until you’ve learned the secret you need to know. Remember your first love. Remember what brings tears to your eyes; remember who brings tears to your eyes. Why is that?
On I could go. On you could go, and you should. Live the miracle of your life, each passing moment. Take nothing for granted; take everything for gratitude. Dare to enjoy your life. And recognize that the Creator of life – the life that surrounds you and the life that fills you – has given you a life to share delight. In the beginning, God created life, and it was good, so good, so amazingly good that God could not help but share it… with you: God’s grandeur in its infinitely manifold forms, shared with you, created in God’s image.
So you could well ask, is that glory? Daring to enjoy your life, is that glory? It’s a manifestation of God’s glory: your being able to “taste and see” that God and God’s gift of life for you is good.6 Jesus promises to give us life, and to give it to us abundantly.7 Receive that promise – it’s God’s gift for you – and lap up the goodness of life, the goodness of your life. Let God’s light and life and love shine upon your countenance, and savor every moment of your life. Don’t miss a minute of it.
There’s three reasons I can think of why you might not risk taking in Jesus’ promise of abundant life, life to be savored and enjoyed. Three reasons I can think of why basking in the God’s glory – God’s light and life and love for you – could seem beyond your grasp.
For one, you may think you are unworthy, unworthy of God’s light and life and love. To that, I say “hogwash.” Not so. You have to know how God sees you. God sees you as belonging to Jesus. We bask in Jesus’ reflected glory. Our founder, Richard Meux Benson, says that God sees us “in the glory of the light of his only begotten Son.” Father Benson says, “it is not a separate glory flowing over to us, in addition to the glory of his Son, but it is the very same love which is the glory of the Son in which [God] sees us.”8 Look to the glory that God bestowed on Jesus, and that’s yours. Honest. The psalmist says, “Look upon [God] and be radiant, and let not your faces be ashamed.”9 Jesus is worthy, and he makes you the same. Where is God’s glory to be found in the here-and-now? In you. You are God’s glory. It’s true.
Here’s a second reason why life may seem so hard to enjoy, and why you might stumble in apprehending God’s glory within you and around you. And that is because there is so much suffering, despair, deceit, cruelty, injustice, death in our world. That is also true. As is God’s grandeur. In this world, we have to make space in our soul to live amidst both the best and worst, and sometimes simultaneously. You can feel more than one thing at once. Your feelings may even be incongruous and irreconcilable. But you can feel more than one thing at once. In our life in this world, we are on our way, somewhere between the beginning of life and the end. In the beginning, The Book of Genesis, where all was good; and in the end, The Book of Revelation, when there will be crying and weeping no more.10 And in the meantime, and sometimes it is a very mean time, we have to make space in our souls – using St. Paul’s language – to “rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”11 Do both. You can do it.
A number of years ago I was out for a run with one of our brothers, James Madden. We were actually just down the block from the Monastery when we passed by someone, a friend to our community. He hailed us and he said to James, “How are you?!” James had been living with cancer for more than a decade, and after years of remission, the cancer had aggressively returned, which this friend knew. “How are you?” he asked James, to which he responded. “I’m terrific! My multiple myeloma has metastasized, but other than that, life’s wonderful!” We laughed, because we knew this was so true for James. In fifteen days he was dead.
If life is really tough for you just now, name it, claim it, know Jesus to be with you always, even in the valley of the shadow of death… and meanwhile, take time to smell the flowers.
And thirdly, here’s the obstacle which I’ll call an invitation. Look to the glory beyond this world. Presume that what is glorious in this world, and glorious in your own life, is just a foretaste of what is to come. That doesn’t mean we should not enjoy our life, savor it, be deeply grateful for it; however it’s simply a foretaste of what Jesus calls “the food that will last,” the dwelling place he prepares for us for all eternity. Using the language of an art critic, I would say that life on this earth is an excellent reproduction of the original. Using the language of the church, we say, at death, “life is changed, not ended.”12 You can feel more than one thing at once. That includes: “this is wonderful, and there is more yet.” In a very difficult time, it may mean – once more to use St. Paul’s words – “for this slight, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.”13 Love your life, and when it’s slipping away from you, know that what you’ve loved the most has simply whetted your appetite for what is to come. Bask in God’s iridescent glory now; look to the glory to come. Glory, or to be glorified, is to teem with God’s light and life and life… and it will last forever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.