Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘The glory of God mirrored in the Beloved’
When we want to know what God is like, our primary source is Jesus. “The glory of God is mirrored in the Beloved”, says the writer of the homily to the Hebrews. God be with you …
It is often said that worship is a dialogue – that when we gather to worship, God is communicating Godself to us and we are communicating ourselves to God. One of the ways we ought to be able to discern what God is like, then, is by participating in worship. We should be able to leave this worship service each week knowing God a little better than when we arrived. And the one who enables this to happen is Jesus, because, in worship, it is to Christ, first and foremost, that we turn.
One of the striking images in Hebrews, and something we see clearly here in worship, is the suffering of Christ. If Jesus is an exact imprint of God, then God suffers. The Hebrews text says that before Jesus is crowned with glory and honour, he undergoes suffering. And it prefaces this by saying that he became one of us. It goes on to say that from that common starting point he became the pioneer of our salvation – the trailblazer who leads the way and thus enables us to find the way through suffering, death and beyond. Like me, perhaps you’re not convinced that suffering necessarily makes anyone a better person. Sometimes it just seems to make people bitter. Suffering is never, in itself, a good thing. It can’t be, because God has promised a day when there’ll be no more suffering. Moreover, “[n]owhere in the Gospels does Jesus counsel the afflicted to reconcile themselves to their suffering” (Terry Eagleton).
But there is something that suffering is good for. The experience of suffering is helpful if I want to be taken seriously by those who are suffering. How often have you tried to reach out to someone in desperate trouble and been told, “Well thanks, but you just wouldn’t understand”. And sometimes you know it’s right; that because you don’t understand you have virtually nothing to offer. If Jesus wanted to be the pioneer of our salvation, the one who meets us in our fear and suffering, and identifies with us and leads us out to the place of freedom and healing, then to be made perfect for that task he had to suffer. He had to experience the worst that human beings experience. He had to know what it feels like to be betrayed, to be falsely accused, to be grief stricken, to be terrified, to be exhausted, to be abandoned by everybody – even Abba God – to be tortured, to die humiliated. Otherwise, we’d never have taken him seriously when he said that there was hope and that he could lead the way. We’d have said, “What would you know?”
If we want to discern God, we can begin by looking at the suffering of Christ. We can begin by contemplating the breaking of bread and the pouring of wine. We enter into this experience every week. We see the body of Christ broken in our midst. (The brokenness signified by our church walls marred by water damage.) We see mirrored there the brokenness of our own spirits, the brokenness of our relationships, the brokenness of the hungry and homeless, the brokenness of the poisoned earth, air and waters. We see mirrored there the brokenness of the suffering God. And we can say: “You, O God, are worthy of our worship because you have suffered with us, been broken with us, and in your brokenness you have offered us wholeness.”
We can also know of God that God is forgiving, that God is merciful and will take direct action to ensure that our sins are forgiven, that we don’t have to live weighed down and crippled by guilt for past wrongs. In the homily to the Hebrews it says of Jesus that he “made purification for sins”. That phrase draws on the image of the priest who in the Temple performed the required rite, the sacrifices and prayers, in order to cleanse the people of the impurity of sin. He decontaminated them. So when it says that Jesus “made purification for sins” it is saying that he did whatever needed to be done to decontaminate us, to set us free from the guilt and fear that lingers and debilitates when we know we have betrayed someone. It is quite different from someone who just says, “Oh, it doesn’t matter”, but who hasn’t really done anything to help. Jesus is not just dismissing my sin as nothing, he is taking action. Jesus does whatever it takes and cops whatever hostility comes from those who find it convenient to keep people locked in their guilt and fear because they can be more easily manipulated that way.
If we want to discern God, we can begin by hearing the active forgiveness of Christ. We hear the words every week. We acknowledge our own brokenness and failure and we receive the assurance of forgiveness, the commitment of God, the God who will do whatever it takes to heal us and make us whole. And we can say: “You, O God, are worthy of our worship because you stop at nothing to set us free from sin and guilt and fear.”
We can also know of God that God is making us holy and setting out to crown us with divine glory and honour. The homilist quotes the scriptures – from Psalm 8 – that human beings seem insignificant in the scheme of things, though on a rung just below that of the angels. And then the homilist says something quite extraordinary: that Jesus Christ was also on a rung below the angels, but having suffered death and having acted to forgive sins, has been promoted. Christ has been crowned with glory and honour and seated at the right hand of God. But that’s not all. It is right after that that the homilist talks about Jesus being our pioneer, our trailblazer. Where Christ has gone, we get to go. His path is the path we are called upon. It is not an easy path – it may take us through all that he went through – but it is a path that leads to the right hand of God, to being crowned with glory and honour, and to our being declared co-
If we want to discern God, we can begin by contemplating the generous sharing of Christ. We can begin by contemplating this desire, not to make us underlings, but to lift us up all the way to where he is, to the right hand of God. We can begin by contemplating his invitation to us to become his body. We enter into this experience every week. Christ invites us to receive what we are and to become what we receive – the body of Christ. We feel that God is not just giving us a bit of Godself, but is drawing us right into the inner being of God so that we can become one with the love and joy and peace that are made perfect in the divine community, that is, the Trinity. We experience the extravagant generosity of God. And we can say: “You, O God, are worthy of our worship because you have blazed the trail on which to gather us and all your children into your own glory. You have made us your own beloved children – co-
What can we know of God? In what we see, hear and experience at this altar-
Based on a homily by Nathan Nettleton.