Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God… 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.
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes… shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.
I wrote my first sermon, totally unsolicited, when I was about nine or ten years old. By that time I must have heard twenty or thirty discourses on the Second Coming of Christ because, in the church of my youth, the Second Coming of Christ was pretty much all they preached on — they thought, rightly, that it was immanent, constitutive of the Christian faith as well as immediate. So, my first sermon was about the Second Coming as well. The problem with it, as I look back, was that I was carried way by my imagination. About a year or so earlier I had seen the first movie version of War of the Worlds at the local Paramount Theater — the first one, the one that starred Gene Barry. It won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. When I wrote my sermon on the Second Coming, I managed to mix it up with War of the Worlds. I had decided that New York City would be our Lord’s target for his return, and I visualized Him with death-rays shooting from his eyes, wiping out our enemies, much like the Martians in the movie effortlessly dispatched their enemies. Cars were flying through the air. People were fleeing in mass. When I preached the sermon to my mother and father in our living room, they did not say much of anything. I think Mother was seriously worried about me or a while and maybe up until she died a few year back. I vaguely recall a short and uncomfortable meeting with our preacher.
I still believe in the Second Coming of Christ and we all boldly proclaimed it as a dogma of the faith of the Church this morning when we announced that we believe in Jesus Christ and that, “He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead.” St. John and all the other Apostles and the whole Church, ancient and modern, agree that God has committed himself to materiality and in particular he has committed himself to the material substance of the human body. And one of the major proofs of that reality is that the Son of God himself is committed to His own Human Flesh to be coeternal with his Divinity. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, will never cease to be a human being and our texts for today place before us his Second Coming as more proof of love and solidarity with humanity. But in addition to that proof, we also have a promise.
First of all to the proof of his solidarity with us: The same Jesus who was conceived in Mary’s womb, whose human flesh is the flesh, the humanity of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Eternal Word of the Father — the same Jesus who died, who rose from the Dead, the same Jesus who ascended to His Father – that same Jesus will return and that event will bring an end to this space-time continuum as we know it:
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
We do a fine job in the Church of proclaiming the great Feasts of our Lord: The Annunciation, The Visitation, Christmas, Epiphany, The Circumcision, Transfiguration, Easter, The Ascension and of course the great day of Abstinence and Fasting – Good Friday. All these holy days ring loudly the clear proclamation that God has anchored His unbounded and uncreated life in human flesh.
We have proclaimed from All Saints’ pulpit repeatedly, our Lord did not merely use human flesh as a means to an end. Jesus did not dispose of His flesh once His earthly work was complete. When He ascended to the Father, fifty day after His resurrection, He ascended body and all. Body and all — because human beings are being of spirit, intelligence, and flesh. Jesus would not be perfectly human, truly human, without His body of flesh. And neither would we be fully human, fully ourselves, if our hope was only in something like a nebulous survival of the so-called immortal soul. Our blessed hope is not a disembodied state of being, but rather we look to the resurrection of our bodies.
And this is where the promise comes in; but to get there we have to ask why did God become Man, why did the Word become flesh? Was the Incarnation simply a method to provide a Body to be a sacrificed? That is exactly what I was taught back in the church of my youth. But that is not true. The Incarnation was not only to provide a body of sinless flesh to be sacrificed for sin. There’s more, much more to this story. Why did the Son of God become the Son of Man? I’ll tell you why: The Son of God became the Son of Man so that the Sons, the Children of Man (that’s all of humanity) might become the Sons, Children of God. That is ontological, a state of being. We have a future that we are growing into as we mature as God’s Offspring.
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 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.
You have been born again through holy baptism and grafted into Jesus Christ. You are Christians, the children of God, and you have a destiny that includes our whole selves, material bodies and all, that will know it perfect finality in the beatific vision — you have been created and then re-created by baptism so that you may behold God in his splendid, unchanging beauty, face-to-face — ourselves transformed into creatures of beauty, agility and unimagined powers, and yet recognized by one another for who we have been as well as who we are becoming in a state of grace. That state of being is one to which the Church Fathers consistently gave the name “deification.” That is both a process and a state of being that already exist and in fact the Collect for this 25th Sunday in Trinity proclaims the same mystery:
O God, whose blessed Son was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil, and make us the sons of God, and heirs of eternal life; Grant us, we beseech thee, that having this hope, we may purify ourselves, even as he is pure; that, when he shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto him in his eternal and glorious Kingdom…
Our connection to the Son is precious and intimate because he has, in loving solidarity with us, become a partaker of our flesh and blood. And that very thing was accomplished in the Incarnation through the flesh of his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. God has become flesh of our flesh and thus we have a true connection, a material connection, an intimate connection in our mutual flesh. And realize this most profound truth: God’s very human nature, our very human nature, body and all that once hung upon the Cross, this day participates in the interior life of God the blessed Trinity. Human nature, body and all, has been taken up into the life of the God who is God, without annihilating human nature. It is because human nature, body and all, has been assumed into the life of God without destroying human nature, that we human beings now participate in the life of God. Salvation in the most complete sense means to be made whole, to grow into our full potential as human beings, to realize our destiny as deified creatures destined for the beatific vision, meant to behold God face-to-face. That is our true beatitude, our true happiness, our portion as human beings, our salvation, the perfection of our nature by supernatural grace.
Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God…