I’ve spent a lot of time working in the garden and the grounds these last two weeks! Suddenly, after a winter that seemed to last for ever, with those horrible cold winds, everything is growing double fast. It’s not Summer yet, but Spring is certainly here and, in a way, it’s even more glorious because our winter was so long and dark! Notice that word “glorious” because we have it today in our Gospel (John 13;31-35) in a different form when Jesus speaks of being “glorified”; and this at the very moment when he faces the winter of death, for Judas has just gone out betray him. Yes, true glory, is too powerful a word to be used just for something that is merely good or beautiful. True glory has to be something that is way beyond such things; it is something that emerges almost in the midst of trouble or darkness. It is like that moment after a long illness when suddenly we realise that we are getting strong again, and the sun shines upon us in a new way!
Our Gospel reading also links glory, with love. Jesus knows not only that his death is imminent, but that his friends face an immense sadness that they will find terribly difficult to cope with. All their grand promises of dying with him will be replaced by a feeling of complete wretchedness. It is at the darkest moments that the command to love one another is so important, for us as for them. They may run away, they may be afraid for their own lives, but they do stick together, they do love one another, discovering that the glory of real love is only revealed when things are hard!
I know of a young man who only learned that he really loved his girl friend when she made him cry, when he faced the possibility of losing her. He went on to say that when they had their first baby, and together were driven almost mad by this little screaming monster, he learnt further that love is found in the midst of pain. He remembers pacing up and down in the middle of the night, with the baby in his arms, desperately trying find a way to stop the crying, and feeling like death. In the midst of all this agony, he simply said to himself grimly again and again “This is what love means.. this is what love means.” – and somehow he got through.
We get a hint of this in our 2nd Reading today (Rev 21:1-15) when a loud voice says “God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.” This passage is often read at funerals, because it’s a reminder that only God can help us face the tragedy of the death of a loved one. But it is also about the hope of glory for all of us whatever sadness or difficulty we face. Yes, the Book of Revelation is a difficult book to read. It is full of so many horrible and fantastic images that we wonder what it has got to do with the message of love in the Gospel. What we need to remember is that this Book was written when Christians were facing all kinds of horrors – not only persecution from the world, but perhaps what was worse, people inside the Church, people who called themselves Christians, betraying the faith with unspeakable perversion and immorality!
In the midst of all this many wondered whether it was worth believing in God any longer. How could God allow faithful Christians to face so much suffering and sadness. The writer answers that in the long run, it is those who are evil and perverted who will face a greater suffering – the suffering of eternal death – and it is those who hold on, and are loving and faithful, who will eventually meet God in all his glory. Then, as we heard in our reading, the kingdom of God will be revealed for them, and it will be like a new heaven and earth where God will no longer feel far away, as he can often feel for us, but where God will be so close that not only sadness but even death will be destroyed in a way beyond our imagining. Of course, the whole thing, both the evil and the glory, is portrayed with fantastical images and metaphors that we find difficult to understand ; but the thrust of the message is clear : remain faithful to God, keep on loving, and although there will be much pain, there will be glory at the end.
If you watched Broadchurch during the last few weeks you will have seen this portrayed in a different way. In it a family face the murder of their son, and the discovery eventually that the murderer was one of their best friends. Their grief is unending, and yet they gather with friends and neighbours to light a beacon in his memory on the beach, and on the cliff-top. Then, gradually, from all the other villages, we see other beacons being lit, as people they hardly know show them in the midst of their pain, that there are good people who care everywhere, and that love conquers death. Now that …. is glory!