Seated at the Right Hand of the Father

The Archbishop of York continues our series of twelve meditations on the doctrines of the Creed in preparation for our Christ Our Future celebration on June 10

THE BOOK OF GLORY is the title which the distinguished New Testament scholar, Raymond Brown, gives in his magisterial commentary on St John’s Gospel to Chapters 13-21. It is a very apposite title for these chapters as the Gospel narrative leads us to its climax in the crucifixion of Jesus – which is both the lifting up of his body on the cross and, as well, the raising of that sign and symbol which has become the focus of Christian devotion throughout the ages – the crucified Christ – a moment both of tragedy as well as triumph; the cross – a sign of shame and scandal but also of glory.

Furthermore, this “exultation” of the Son of Man is sustained in the narrative of the resurrection – which is both resurrection and glorification. There is no account of the Ascension in the Johannine narrative – resurrection, ascension, exultation are all part of the same theme of God’s victory in Jesus Christ over the powers of darkness, destruction and death. It is a celebration of the future in the present as much as it is of past events.

It is precisely this connection between resurrection and glorification which is reflected in the Nicene Creed. For the statement “on the third day he rose again” concludes with this vision of the risen Lord “seated at the right hand of the Father” -a vision so powerfully portrayed and depicted in the iconography and mosaics of earlier ages.

The amazing and incredible truth is that the invisible God – “the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen”, became incarnate. In Jesus Christ already we have been given a glimpse of God’s glory. That is the assertion right at the beginning of John’s Gospel – “the word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld his glory full of grace and truth”. It is one of the most powerful and astounding statements ever made.

And now at the end we contemplate the finished work of God – Christ risen and seated at the Father’s right hand. And this must continue to be the Church’s vision and inspiration sustaining its life and the life of the faithful in this world; a reflection of that vision glorious as we look to the world to come. It is the vision of every eucharistic celebration as we hear on the distant ear the triumph song of heaven and the church on earth is drawn into the eternal worship of the church in heaven.

The question which Philip poses to Jesus, John 14. 9. – “show us the Father” seems somewhat redundant as we are drawn into the very presence of God in this moment of glory – this heaven upon earth – the “real presence” of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

Furthermore, we are not like Philip prompted to ask “Lord show us the Father and we shall be satisfied”. Already God’s self-disclosure has been given us in the words and works of Jesus Christ, in his life, death and resurrection. Certainly we long for that altogether larger and greater vision in the words of Thomas Aquinas – “to gaze on thee unveiled, and see thy face, the vision of thy glory and thy grace”.

But for now we rejoice and are content to adore in wonder, love and praise that miracle of grace which is the precious body and blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, given in the fullness of love for the salvation of the whole world.