The great Saint Irenaus, Bishop in Gaul (in what is now France) in the early second Century proclaimed, “Gloria Dei est vivens homo” that is, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” It describes a vision splendid of you and me, and those who live around us being raised up from the uncertainty and triviality of living, to being people who reflect authentically and joyfully in our lives the knowledge of God’s love for us, and his abiding presence with us. It goes without saying that Saint Irenaus’ words are primarily a description of what we find when we look at the life of Jesus.
We continue to celebrate today the great joy of Eastertide, these fifty days where we unceasingly proclaim that our Lord and Saviour rose from the dead. And it is in our resurrected Lord that the glory of God can most fully be seen to be alive. But it follows that we (who through baptism share in that eternal life) are invited also to both seek out the Father’s glory as it is revealed in Jesus, and to be signs of it in our own lives today. It is a vision that is at the heart of all that we aspire to be and to do here at Saint Peter’s, to be a place through which the beauty and the majesty of the glory of God can be found in our human living: to be a community which lives out God’s glory through hospitable welcome, generous care, transcendent worship and spiritual learning and growing together.
In our Gospel reading today we hear another of the great ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel. Each of these seven sayings, recorded for us by the writers of this Gospel seek to highlight for us our Easter faith. You will remember them I am sure:
“I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger.”
“I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
“I am the gate; if anyone enters through me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”
“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even if he dies.”
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.”
and in today’s Gospel encounter, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me.”
These distinctive sayings of Jesus are unique to John’s Gospel and they are the way that the authors of that Gospel try to communicate to us this vision of God’s glory in Jesus, and in our lives in him.
Jesus says to his first disciples and to us, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ In the midst of their bewilderment about what will happen to them when Jesus is no longer with them, as they seek to work out the ultimate end of his message of salvation is all about, Jesus calls those first disciples to recognise in him the only authentic way for human living. If we follow in his way, if we believe in his truth, we can live in his abundant life.
Many people will say that the exclusiveness and the narrowness of that statement have no place in a modern pluralistic society. But I say to you, that this definition of Jesus, by himself, about himself is in many ways the beginning and the end of what is means to be a Christian. If we are not able to accept that Jesus is the most authentic, and clearest sign for humanity of what it means to be in relationship with the God who has created us, then we don’t just have a problem with these few verses, we have a problem with the whole of the good news of Jesus.
I have spent the last few days in Brisbane with a group of Bishops, clergy and lay leaders at the National Anglican Conversation on the Re-vitalisation of the Church. We have been exploring and discussing together the kinds of strategies and policies that are needed across the Anglican Church of Australia to give both permission and direction to the way that we share this momentous news with others, and how we encourage those who are already within the Church to live in the joy of God’s love for us.
One of the staggering statistics that we were presented with at the conference, from research in the Church of England, is that Church going parents (in England) rate more highly teaching their children good manners, than they do teaching them the stories of Jesus. It would be fair to say that within Australia the Church has by and large lost its nerve, its confidence in sharing the good news with others that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life for all humanity.
“The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
The great mystic Thomas Merton expounded this reality when he said, “for me to be a saint means to be myself.” This does not mean to be ‘self’ fulfilled, in some ‘New Age’ sense, but — to aspire to be the person that I was created to be, as revealed to me by the glory of God as a member of this family of God’s people – because ultimately the finding of God and the finding of myself (the me that God longs for) is the same event.
This weekend we welcome our catechumens as they prepare to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation through the power of the Holy Spirit and at the hands of our Bishop in a few weeks time at the Feast of Pentecost. We affirm today our commitment to provide space for them here within this community to be welcomed and to grow in faith. And we anoint them with the oil of the catechumens as a sign of God’s protection over them as we make the commitment to pray for them that they will know the fullness of God’s love in their lives when the Holy Spirit is confirmed within them in a few weeks time. We recognise God in them, and we pray for them (as we pray for ourselves) that his glory may be evident in their lives.
Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
The Glory of God, is you and me, fully alive with this hope, committed to him, and committed to one another within the community of his Body, living out his love through hospitable welcome, generous care, transcendent worship and spiritual learning and growing together.