The Marriage of Heaven and Earth

August 10, 2014 Length: 18:39

The glory of Jesus Christ is known in all its fullness in the resurrection of his complete person; body, mind and spirit. The Transfiguration is a disclosure of both a deified humanity and a glorified Cosmos in advance of the resurrection itself.

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Very soon we shall celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, on 6th August in fact, this Wednesday. We know the gospel account. St Peter, St James and St John, those amongst the 12 to whom Jesus often revealed more of Himself, climbed Mount with the Lord and were perplexed and fearful when He appeared transfigured before them. In some ways this is like the ascent of the Prophet Moses on Sinai when he encountered the glory of the Lord. Unlike Moses, however, the three disciples did not have to hide and shield their faces as this glory passed by. Peter James and John with unveiled face came to behold the glory of the Lord. These three were deemed worthy of this disclosure so that the Church might learn from them who Jesus Christ truly is, the God-Man, He in whom Heaven and Earth are one. Glory now has a human face, God is known as Man and even the very clothes which Jesus wore were irradiated with that glory. The glory of Christ therefore transforms the world itself and not just the beholders of that world.

This glory of Jesus Christ is known in all its fullness in the resurrection of his complete person; body, mind and spirit. The Transfiguration is a disclosure of both a deified humanity and a glorified Cosmos in advance of the resurrection itself. Indeed I suspect that the three disciples probably remained utterly confused about these revelations until after the resurrection, which is when it began to make sense. What Jesus already was and already had been from eternity, the divine Logos, both they and the whole Universe could now experience in all its (or rather His) transformative power. To understand this better, let us for a moment retrace our steps back to Paradise, the Garden of Eden, and the terrible consequences of the loss of that realm to our species in the Fall of Man. 

That terrible consequence was of course, death; but death, if you will allow me, was and is not all bad news.  Death was a necessary breach in humanity’s divine vocation as a result of our first parents’ disobedience. Death had limited the spread of corruption arising from our First Parents’ arrogance that they could get on just fine without God. With the Incarnation and the overturning of death in the resurrection, however, a way was opened up through Christ and repentance for human beings to reconnect with God and fulfil their destiny, their calling. This was achieved through the exercise of Christ’s priesthood.

Generally speaking a priest is a mediator between humanity and God. Christ and Christ alone was and is both the High Priest and sacrificial Victim who with His own blood purchased for us an eternal redemption; that is He has delivered us from the kingdom of darkness into his own glorious Light. This is our glorification, our Transfiguration, our empowerment in Him to work with and for him as his priests, his co-workers in the restoration of creation which was also saw the injured by the Fall. Originally death had entered the whole creation because one angel had sinned, Lucifer, but then one couple had sinned and so Eden was no more, for a time at least. When death was overturned, Satan’s rule was ended and humanity was again free to walk in the presence of God and till the Garden Paradise of the Cosmos, restoring its life and purpose.

In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, therefore, Eden is no longer a fragile safe zone for humanity but an omnipresent reality, and especially wherever and whenever the Eucharist is celebrated to deepen and extend the marriage of Heaven and Earth through the death and resurrection of Christ.  At every Liturgy Christ is both the High Priest and the Bridegroom seeking union with his creation through his Bride the Church. As we actively participate in the life of the risen Christ, and especially when we receive Holy Communion, the power of His resurrection spreads out further and further, progressively transfiguring the world through us His Body, his Children.  This in turn the creation itself free from death because we now bear the life of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, the full potentiality to liberate, heal and make all things new.  Surely this is what St Paul meant when in the eighth chapter of Romans he wrote this:
“For I consider 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 creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now.  Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”  (Romans 8:18-23)
This Transfiguration of the Cosmos through all the believers as priests of the great High Priest is driven not just by what we actively do to restore the divine harmony of heaven and Earth but is also driven by both the persons we are and who we are becoming through our transfiguration in Christ. In the same way that it is not just Christ’s works that saves but also His own Person so also with his followers it is not only their works that transform the world but also the holiness of their personhood in Christ.  The world is indeed saved by holy people whose life is wholly Christ.  This invitation to be co-workers with God is necessarily laid before all the baptised in their differing gifts and vocations.  It is how salvation is finally acquired that God might be “all and in all.”

That great seventh century saint and theologian of the Church, deeply venerated both in the Christian East and the Christian West, Saint Maximus the Confessor had a firm grasp of these truths. He understood well the intimate relationship between humanity and the Cosmos and in this anthropic, that is human principle, he saw the knitting together of the whole Universe. Certain aspects of pre-Christian Greek thought helped him to articulate this, most notably the ancient Greek conception of the logoi, those rationally apprehended principles or meanings of the order and beauty that we find in the Cosmos.  This is of course the stuff of scientists, poets and anyone who has gazed at a star filled night sky and wondered, or witnessed a child being born. For St. Maximus and indeed for all of us, principally on account of the teaching of St John the Theologian in the first chapter of his Gospel, all these logoi or divine seeds permeating the Cosmos are gathered up in the Logos, the Word of God Himself, that is Christ.  The incarnation proves that humanity is indeed that fit vehicle for the fulfilment of the creation’s purpose in God. How so? Because God has made humanity in his own image.  In Christ, the true icon of God in human form, He has also restored human likeness unto God.

Let us then be clear about this. If we become little christs, which is our priestly vocation, then the life and purpose of the Cosmos will be restored. As St Paul taught the Cosmos awaits our redemption because that is its purpose. So, every time human beings corrupt and destroy and disfigure creation they show themselves still to be in bondage to Satan. But every time human beings give life, beautify and honour creation they show themselves to be true bondsmen and women of Christ.
When Peter, James and John were stricken on the mountain by the vision of Christ glory little did they realise at the time that God the Father was laying before them in his Son and by the power of the Holy Spirit the possibilities of creation being restored not only through their own redemption and consecration but also in the loving sacrifice of all those who would come after them.  These are they, the saints, who seeking first the kingdom of God would even in their own lifetimes see the beauty of creation made anew in Christ.

In our own day creation may not have been stripped of its beauty but materialistic and reductionist conceptions of the physical world have largely robbed it of its human focus. The famous Christian mystic, mathematician and scientist, Blaise Pascal once pondered the impersonality of Cosmos against which humanity was but a mote of dust, unknowingly so easily swallowed up by the Universe. However he knew that human dignity in God was not compromised by the obliviousness of the Cosmos to our existence but rather confirmed by the glory of humanity’s conscious awareness of that same Universe. We might say that in humanity or indeed in any other form of life of whom it could be said this is God’s image and likeness, the Cosmos is able to know itself, to attain to its own true glory. Humanity lies at the very heart of all things not because of its geographical location, not on account of any alleged exceptional and unique place for the Earth itself. Copernicus taught us that! No humanity is at the heart of the Cosmos because in Christ we rediscover what it is to be fully alive in God and this is the life of the Cosmos also of which God once said, and doubtless still does: “This is very good.”