Jesus said to his disciples, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father… And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. John 16:16 & 22
The Gospel for today is taken from a part of the Gospel of John called the “Farewell Discourse” — the idea being that the timing of these sermons are only hours from our Lord’s arrest in Gethsemane. Jesus is speaking to his inner circle of disciples at the last supper. Judas, having received his last bit of nourishment from our Lord’s hand, left the well lit upper room and walk into the dark streets of Jerusalem and made his way over to the Temple. Then, Jesus began the Farewell Discourse which continues to the end of John 17. John 18 begins with the fateful words:
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered…
That situates the discourse to time and place and that helps us draw out the meaning of the text that I have chosen for today:
Jesus said to his disciples, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father…
“Ye shall not see me, because I go to the Father…” might bring back to our remembrance the words Jesus spoke to Mary at the Tomb:
Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
I have chosen to preach on the Gospel because it throws light on the subject of deification, which I have preached on before, because I wish to continue, through out the summer, to explore the themes of deification, participation, desire, & imitation. I want us to understand that these words refer to God’s active grace. Participation is our state of being “in Christ,” it is a state of God-given grace. Deification is God’s will for our life. Desire and imitation — what we long for, what we yearn for, as well as what we mimic, what we mirror, flow from God’s sacramental grace. Or it doesn’t. Desire and imitation are gifts of grace that continually open us up to more of God’s grace.
Deification can be off putting and confusing and it is my duty to clarify the doctrines of the Church and in so doing to eliminate, as best I can, ambiguity and confusion. What is deification? What does it mean to say that deification is God’s finality for human beings? God created us not out of any necessity, not because he had to, but because he willed to do so and he willed to create us for his own reason. Deification is the reason he created us.
But understand this: the difference between the Creator and the most exalted creature is radically other; the Creator is self-subsistent; he depends on nothing and no one. On the other hand, the creature, any creature whatsoever, is completely dependent upon the Creator for his very being and continued existence. Yet the fledging Church in Jerusalem, her memory of Jesus life, death, and resurrection still fresh, declared her own self-understanding with the title, “children of God.” The first generation Church believed themselves to be “children of God,” because Jesus taught them to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven.” Furthermore, John declares the same up from at the very beginning of his Gospel:
as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name… John 1:12
We are going to take the claim that we are children of God seriously just as the earliest Church did. That we are children of God is the beginning of the Church’s understanding of deification but it does not end there.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. I John 3:2
Please note the importance the Beloved Disciple places upon seeing Jesus when he comes in glory and how that vision will result in knowledge of our selves and knowledge of Jesus as our God and as our Elder Brother:
Jesus said to his disciples, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father… And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. … John 16:16 & 22
Exactly what did Jesus promise his disciple in the upper room when he said, “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father?” First of all, it is certainly the case that he is referring to the fact that they will see him after his resurrection — though they could not have understood what he meant since no one had ever experienced a resurrection like Jesus’ resurrection. At that moment, they did not know what he was talking about as the text itself shows it because the disciples actually declare to one another that they had no idea what Jesus was saying. After his resurrection they saw him and they rejoiced.
But with the figure of the woman in travail (who reminds us of the woman in travail in the Revelation) and the promise of everlasting joy, I submit that the text points to another vision of Jesus that will bring about final happiness to all creation:
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is… I John 3:2
That, vision, the beatific vision, does not communicate knowledge and understanding of who we are and who Jesus is in his glory, but the vision is also transformative. It is a vision that effects what it communicates. We become what we see. Salvation is more than a fire escape — salvation means to be made whole, to grow into our full potential as human beings, to realize our destiny as creatures meant for the Beatific Vision, bound to behold God face-to-face. And furthermore part of our vocation, that goes right back to our first Parents in the Garden, enlivened and energized by the Beatific Vision, is to bring the rest of creation to fruition. The most important end of deification is that it enables us to see the majesty and glory of God through God’s own eyes, through divine eyes. That is our true beatitude, our true happiness, our portion as human beings, the perfection of our nature by grace. And that includes the rest of the created order — our duty to husband creation. Remember this: grace perfects nature, grace does not annihilate nature; the supernatural grace of God enables us to realize our natural destiny as children of God participating in the divine nature of the God who is God. In his high priestly prayer in John 17 Jesus brings before his Father the destiny of the children of God:
Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world… John 17:24
Someone asked me when the idea of our deification first came up in the Church and was it in the Bible. These are first rate questions. First, in the sense of being the first sort of questions we ought to ask concerning what we believe and hold to be really real: What is it? and Is it true?
I have shown that the doctrine of deification is there from the beginning of Jesus’ mission and that is what Peter could write:
(Through) his precious and very great promises… you may become partakers of the divine nature… II Peter 1:4
I have attempted to sketch out how deification will enable us to see God as he is, in his self-subsistent grandeur. This is the first assumption of the great Church Fathers like Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, and Athanasius — the doctrine of deification explains the Incarnation. But then came the first great challenge to the Church’s doctrine by Arius who denied the full divinity of our Lord. In no small manner it was the doctrine of deification that carried the day for Orthodoxy. In response to the Arian heresy and Athanasius’ defense of Orthodoxy, many confessors poured into the first great council. These men and women bore in their bodies of flesh the wounds of persecution — they were blinded, their tongues cut out, hands and feet cut off, ears and noses severed. They took it that Jesus’ flesh had become the place of judgement, and now they rejoiced that they had the honor of imitating Jesus in their bodies. These confessors are the one’s who came to Nicaea and immediately understood why Athanasius teaching became the slogan at Nicaea. As the Defender of Orthodoxy wrote:
For as the Lord, putting on the body, became man, so we men are deified by the Word as being taken to Him through His flesh… For He was made man that we might be made divine.
That’s enough for today. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.