The Weight of Glory
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’
That word was ‘glory’. Alice (in Through the Looking-glass) was not the only person to have a difficulty about glory. Many Christians are diffident and fight shy of it and, as a result, one of the key concepts of Scripture is ignored.
The Week of Weeks
Holy Week is all about Glory: the glory of God manifested in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There’s little difficulty about describing the Resurrection as ‘glorious’. For God Incarnate to have risen, or been raised, from the dead is the single most dramatic example of God’s all-sovereignty even over the Last Enemy. This fulfilment of God’s purposes to save the world which he loves is something to which even the most spiritually dull-of-mind can relate.
The Passion and the Ecstasy
But his passion and death? How can that be said to be glorious? Surely these two experiences, death and suffering which most of us, and in the case of death all of us, will experience sooner or later, are the very opposite of what we understand by the word glory.
Scripture, on the contrary, says otherwise. Over and over again the themes of entering into glory through suffering, and triumphing over death recur. Here we have yet another instance where secular mind and spiritual mind view things in two irreconcilably different ways.
It helps to remind ourselves that the Hebrew word translated ‘glory’, kabod, literally means ‘weight’ or ‘heaviness’. When we say of something we approve that it’s ‘of real substance’ we mean that it is the opposite of weightless – and another term for ‘weight’ is embarrassment. Might that have something to do with our diffidence about the idea of glory?
Weightlessness is an affliction of our time. Glory, as the world sees it, is essentially transitory, and if examined closely turns out to be of little weight or substance. The old saying Sic transit gloria mundi – thus the glory of the world passes away – remains as true today as ever it was. When man’s gaze is fixed exclusively on the things that are visible, their weightlessness will in the end become obvious. It’s only when he looks upon the things that are not seen – the Eternals – that he begins to understand that the glory of God is the only thing that carries any real weight within itself.
Christians, as the fellow-heirs of Christ through the grace of God, believe ourselves to be the legitimate heirs with him of that glory. That glory is not, as many wrongly suppose, a reward for being good, but an inevitable result of simply being in him. God entrusts us as individuals with sufficient weight of glory in this life to whet our appetite for the full weight which we shall inherit when we die, but not so much that we are unable to carry it safely around with us in our frail earthen vessels.
No Cross; no Crown
Hence the weight of glory which God entrusts to one person might be either insufficient for or overwhelming to another. This may partly explain why both ‘success’ and ‘suffering’ on earth appear to be so unequally parcelled out. Be that how it may, Passion, Death and Resurrection are all as necessary a part of our discipleship, or learning-curve, as they were in the case of our Lord. As Hebrews states, ‘he learned obedience through the things which he suffered’. In other words – No Cross, No Crown’!
Francis Gardom is assistant priest at St Stephen’s, Lewisham.