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Look to the Glory – Br. James Koester

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Br. James Koester

Acts 1: 6 – 14
Psalm 68: 1 – 10, 33 – 36
1 Peter 4: 12 – 16, 5: 6 – 11
John 17: 1 – 11

I am not naturally inclined to poetry. It’s not something I read a great deal of. I don’t spend my time reading the great poets or memorizing poems. When I was in Grade Eleven, we were given a choice of a number of options to choose from in our English literature class. One option was Canadian Literature. The other option was poetry. I of course, signed up for the Canadian Literature section. The problem was, so too did a number of my classmates. The end result was that I, and several others, were simply reassigned to the poetry section in order to even out the class sizes. I remember distinctly that one of the assignments of this class was to write five poems during the course of the term. I wrote my first poem at the end of the first class and handed it in. I still remember it:

O God, why me?
I chose Can Lit,
But got stuck in poetry.
O sh….

Well, you get the idea.

 

In hindsight, forty years later, I’m glad I was reassigned to the poetry section. Had that not been the case, I would never have found my way into a poetry class and would never have been exposed to Donne, Herbert, Milton, Wordsworth, Trahern, Hopkins, Eliot, Purdy and the rest. It’s not that I go back to them very often, but at least they are back there, rattling around in my mind somewhere.

I tell you all of this, not as a way to declare my ignorance, but as a reminder, perhaps especially to me, of the importance of poetic language. What I discovered in that poetry class, is that poetry isn’t so much about rhyme schemes, as it is about language. The poet isn’t trying to create a ditty, as I did that day, but to express something that is almost impossible to express in words.

Today we find ourselves in the middle of a poem.

It’s not that Luke, or Peter or John sat down with pen and parchment to create something that rhymes, rather they attempted to put into words something that is beyond words. They used the symbol of language as a way to convey a concept far beyond language.

When Jesus had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.[1]

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.[2]

So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.[3]

The language of the Ascension, indeed the language of Scripture, is the language of poetry, because the language of Scripture is not the language of fact, but of mystery, myth and metaphor, because God is beyond all words.

Now don’t get me wrong. Scripture IS full of facts, but it’s not the Boston Globe or The New York Times or the Toronto Globe and Mail. The purpose of Scripture is not to convey facts. Although it does. The purpose of Scripture is to invite people into the mystery that is God.

When we reduce Scripture to facts, it becomes a theme park or an historical site like Plimouth Plantation, where the re-enactors try to convince you that the world of the 17th Century still exists. When we reduce Scripture to facts, we get representations of the Ascension that show Jesus’ feet, complete with nail holes, sticking out of the ceiling, swathed in cotton batting clouds. But when Scripture attempts to convey the mystery that is God, we enter the world of poetry, mystery, myth and metaphor. That doesn’t make it unreal. Rather it makes it true.

So what is true about the Ascension?

Father Benson reminds us that the Ascension is not just about Jesus’ destiny, but our present reality as well. He writes: But Jesus is not glorified in His own Person only. His Apostles had fed upon Him, had His body within them, by virtue of the Holy Eucharist… Now, upon His Ascension, His body in them is glorified instantaneously with the glorifying of His body at the right hand of God. Like an electric flash the glory of the Spirit shines out in the fires of Pentecost. The body of Christ, however veiled in our flesh, in our sinful persons, nevertheless cannot but have the glory of the Spirit of holy fire burning and resting upon it. We do not, I think, dwell as we ought to dwell upon the present glorification of our nature in our own persons, as members of the glorified body of Christ.[4]

If the truth about Jesus, to use the poetic language of the Creeds, is that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father[5] the reality is that we are as well. Our present condition is that we dwell, not only here on earth, looking forward to the happiness of heaven, but as members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, by right of our baptisms into Christ, then we dwell eternally in glory even now.

It is impossible to speak of the glory, not that one day WILL be ours, but IS ours even now without using the language of poetry, the language of mystery, myth and metaphor.

Father Benson invites us to look to the glory, not as one would look to a foreign country that is unknown and unfamiliar. He invites us to look to the glory because this is where we dwell even now. As Second Corinthians reminds us: and all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.[6]

As Christians we live in a poetic world because it is the only way we know how to express the mystery and majesty, not only of the reality of God, but of ourselves as well. Today, during this Ascensiontide, we behold the glory and grandeur of God, not by gazing at feet dangling out of clouds but by pondering the very heart of mystery and seeing that we too are charged with the grandeur of God. [That] will flame out, like shining from shook foil.[7]

It’s impossible to speak of the glory that is ours at this very moment, unless we first become poets.

[1] Acts 1: 9

[2] 1 Peter 5: 10

[3] John 17: 5

[4] Benson, Richard Meux, Further Letters, page 268 – 269

[5]BCP 1979, page 96

[6] 2 Corinthians 3: 18

[7] Hopkins, Gerard Manley, God’s Grandeur, lines 1 – 2

 

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3 Comments

  1. Richard J. Sias on May 30, 2017 at 09:02

    First, your youthful poem put a silly smile on my face….smiling is a good thing, thank you. I don’t know if you wrote this to be a homily, or not, but for certain it is, and a lovely one at that. I love being stirred to thinking of the scriptures like reading poetry – I’ve always though if them only as sacred, written by a innocents who went on a great journey (much like those hippy love children of the 1960s and early 1970s)’ who loved the essence of that journey and like magnets were attracted to the charisma of their “Leader” – fully with all their hearts. So wiling for the journey, but not knowing how it would end. And in the sad innocence of what they thought the journey would be and its turn abouts; the world, thank God, for many of us has been forever changed. So, now as I re-read the Gospels and more, I will be guided as when I read a poem, I am curious as heck, to what will be new and different for me. As a professional ballet dancer for many years, living in the world of the arts, and now retired, I like to think that I like those innocents who followed Christ went on a journey, and now I strive to know more about their journey and “our” Leader, Jesus Christ. Thank you, Brother James.

  2. Sue Berkenbush on May 30, 2017 at 08:10

    Thank you Brother Jamie! You are my best guide to Christ……….

  3. Peter Littlefield on May 30, 2017 at 05:29

    this is a beautiful homily, brother james!

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