I don’t think I ever fully appreciated, in my fifty plus years of being an Anglican Anglo-Catholic, the marvelous Pauline epistles that populate the summer Sundays. We are in the green, growing season, a long season of parables and preachings, as we learn more about how Christ Jesus commanded us to live. And in the Liturgy of the Mass, the Gospels are introduced by the Epistles, letters sent to the fledgling churches sprinkled throughout the shores of the Mediterranean during the persecutions of Christians by the Roman Empire.
To be sure, the Gospel rang true this morning, as I listened in our Berkeley chapel, as Jesus spoke of forgiveness and judging not and motes in our eyes. Still, St. Paul writes these poetic words, sung in hymns and echoing two thousand years into our present. Our Lord chose well when he appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, for Paul was (and is) a poet. He knew how to use words and he understood the meaning of the Incarnation, the Son of God walking among us.
“I RECKON that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God…because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:18+, BCP 194)
He is speaking of Heaven and Earth, of life and death and life again, and the resurrection of our new bodies. Our corrupted, earthly bodies which we know so well, will be “delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” That glorious liberty is something we can experience here and now, in the intimacy of the Eucharist, the joy of many voices singing as one, praising our Creator. We are free, now and forever. And we, now, having the first fruits of the Spirit granted in Baptism, groan for that day of glorious liberty when the hints and shadows that T.S. Eliot speaks of become fully realized.
The rim running between Earth and Heaven is a theme explored in my recent novel, Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020), in which our hermit Abram visits Heaven (plot spoiler). He leaves his body and soars through the thin veil that separates Heaven and Earth. We too can puncture that veil, can glimpse our future if we pay attention.
Today, there are glimpses all around me, for here in the Bay Area, the wind blew the morning fog bank back out to sea, and the sun lands like diamonds upon the silvery leaves of the olive tree in my garden. The light glances off them like blinking stars, saying, pay attention, watch and listen and wait. I also glimpse Heaven in the glorious creatures I am privileged to see, like my kitten Angel with her huge fluffy golden tail, a tail beyond measure. Then there are the rapt faces of my fellow worshipers in the chapel this morning, the sense of renewal and the sighs of relief that we can once again worship together, mask free, even singing! I could go on and on. Once I start looking, I begin seeing, and the groaning within isn’t as loud, as I wait for the adoption of my body into God’s glorious liberty.
Fernando Ortega, Christian composer and songwriter, describes the Second Coming of Christ in his song, “Beyond the Sky.” He says that God will “fill the skies.” In his song, “Creation”, he writes, “He wraps himself in light as with a garland, spreads out the heavens, walks on the wings of the wind.”
We live in a fallen world that seems to be falling farther and faster each day. And yet believers hold it together, like a garland wrapped around Earth, a garland of love and praise. For we know the groaning of our corruptible bodies, which began to die with their birth, will be no more. Our bodies will be made incorruptible by the one who created us in the beginning.
And in this fallen world we are given glimpses of future wonders. We are given the Church, Christ’s Body, to nurture us in this mean-time, to catch us when we fall and set us upon the right path again. For Christ lives, here, in our own time, in us and outside us, in the Bread and the Wine, as we wait for our manifestation as sons and daughters of God.
In the meantime I will work on the mote(s) in my eye. As Christ commanded, I will give, good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over. Then, perhaps, the mote will be gone, and my blindness turned into sight. Glorious, glorious, sight. Glorious, glorious liberty.