14 May 2017
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Easter 5A (RCL)
Psalm 31 1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
We get a very short snippet of a reading from the Book of Acts, relating the stoning of Stephen. It comes at the end of a sermon by him, in which he indicts the people of constantly having mistreated those whom God has sent to lead them, including this Jesus. On trial, Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit gazes into have and sees the Glory of God with Jesus standing at the right hand of the glory. This is reminiscent of Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days, and one like a son of man. It is also one of the passages in the NT that can be read in support of a Trinitarian theology. Luke makes many connections between this event and Jesus’ own crucifixion — the trial, Stephen’s prayer of forgiveness and even people taking off their coats and throwing them on the ground (cf. the triumphal entry). Stephen’s death is, in its own way, redemptive — by not holding the sin of mistreating those God sends against his own persecutors.
Interestingly, the passage from Peter (not to mention the Psalm) uses the metaphor of stones. Jesus is a living stone, we are living stones built into a Temple, Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders but now at the head of the corner, and the stone of stumbling. All of these ask us to rethink our understanding of glory. It was a shame for a god if the gods devotees suffered ingloriously. For Stephen, in the moment of his stoning to be granted the vision of God’s glory suggests that the glory of God is not in the triumph of God’s people, but has in fact been revealed in the mistreatment of God’s messengers.
John’s Gospel identifies the glory of God with the crucifixion of Jesus. This indeed calls into question our understanding of glory — it is certainly not triumph as we tend to think of it. The glory of God is the divine self-gift, both within the life of the Trinity (the ongoing gift of self to other), and in the Incarnation of Jesus, and in the eucharist. In this realm of sin, that self0gift often looks like defeat, but is in fact the power that upholds the creation.
We are called to make the same gift. Jesus, in the final discourse, tells the disciples that we are to entrust our lives to one another just as he has entrusted his life to us (a better translation than “lay down”). This is the way to God. John envisions the Christian life as life on the wilderness journey. The Word has become incarnate and tabernacles among us. Jesus promises that in his Father’s house are many rest-stops (monai) — the word means a stopping point along a journey or a guest house. When Thomas asks, “We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus does not respond by giving the destination, but by saying, “I am the Way, the truth and the life.” We are always going to be on Way, on of the first names for the Jesus movement.
Stephen’s speech seems to suggest that when we think we have arrived, we have missed the point. When triumph becomes our focus and goal, we miss the glory of God. The glory of God is in the self-gift, which, when we are settled and looking for triumph, looks like defeat. Peter tells us to let ourselves, as living stones, be built into a Temple for God, the point of contact between the divine and the created. Through us, the world is to make its self-gift to God in thanksgiving and response to the divine self-gift. For us, this is glory.