Ezekiel 36:24-28. Acts 16:16-34.  John 17:20-26. Year C

Recently I read this story, about a theological conference.  A distinguished German theologian is explaining what ALMIGHTY means. He says: “In Greek: it is  Pantocrator. In Latin it is:  Omnipotens.”

A Coptic archimandrite with a black tea cosy on his head and several pectoral crosses on his chest stands up: “Excuse me, Pantocrator and Omnipotens are NOT  the same”.  The theologian: “In Greek Pantocrator, in Latin Omnipotens” and carries on where he’d been interrupted, with some irritation.

Then the Coptic archimandrite stands up again. His arms are folded and he rocks gently from side to side. He says: “They are not the same. Pantocrator comes from the Greek word meaning holding. God the Father has handed over his power to His Son, who holds the whole creation in his arms, as a father or mother holds and rocks their child.” Then he sits down. The theologian too sits down and there is silence for a space before he continues his discourse.

This Sunday’s readings are a commentary on the final, or almost the final, of the Epiphanies, of the Lord. The first Epiphany, to his own family and to the shepherds, at his birth. The second to wise men, to the Gentiles, shortly after. The third Epiphany, the Transfiguration. The fourth, the Resurrection. The fifth, the Ascension. Perhaps there is a sixth but that is the Epiphany of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost.

The first, rather strange, reading today is from Acts: the possessed servant girl, shouting out. Here we are being told that even the pagans are recognising the Most High God, the light to the Gentiles.

Then in the Gospel it is spelt out, in John’s inimitable way, what SORT of God it is that is revealed, made manifest, in Jesus our Lord.

Let’s go back track again, this time to the Old Testament. God Himself never appears but he makes himself known pretty terrifyingly, on Mount Sinai and other occasions. Then, He starts speaking through the prophets and here he starts to use a different language. Dare we call it, already, the language of love?  However, people didn’t take much notice.

What is God’s response to being ignored? It’s as though there’s a discourse going on up there: “How CAN we get the message through? We’ll really have to pitch right in, to show them what we’re like. They won’t listen just to words.” So the Word Himself descends … and gets stuck in right up to the neck and beyond.

Here, in today’s Gospel reading, the Word himself explains what he’s up to, what is his meaning. It’s his last chance of explaining, as he used to explain his parables. Then they set off with Him, over the Kidron valley, into the Garden of Gethsemane. Before the Word hands himself over, he gives us this last message. He explains what this glory is, the glory He and the Father share with us. It’s not the sort of glory we usually give to our leaders. The glory of God is simpler, totally unpretentious. Jesus shows us the glory of the Father, the glory God ”almighty” shares with us. The only true glory. It is the glory that we see in Jesus, because he gives Himself up, in love for you and me and all creation. The glory of the one who rocks us lovingly in His arms. The glory of the one who dies for us – what true parent, father or mother, what true friend, or lover, wouldn’t do that ?

When we try to live together, when we attempt to make Christian community, here or in parish communities, we are attempting to live out that same glory, which we can only do because of the gift of the Spirit of love. It’s not a cosy sort of feel-good glory. When it is given we cannot but make it manifest, to be as it were ourselves mini-Epiphanies. The imperative of love drives us out, to communicate, to pass on the same infection, not the infection of swine flu but of totally loving service. As He did.

        Antony Grant CR