The Approach of the Unapproachable Light

[The following was presented at the House of St Michael the Archangel Devotional Conference in January of 2014]

What is this unforeseen wonder that is happening even now?
Does God now wish to be seen by sinners also,
He Who long ago ascended on high, and has taken his seat on a throne
in his Father’s heaven, and remains hidden?

       What is this unforeseen wonder that is happening even now?
       Does God now wish to be seen by sinners also?

              Does God now wish to be seen by sinners also?

God Almighty, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — the Father who sent the Son, and through the Son, the Spirit, so that when the Spirit rests on our hearts we might see the Son, who is the glory and image of the Father — God, that God, the God, wishes to be seen by us.

What did you come here for tonight?

It’s not convenient to be here. Trust me, I know. I’m in nursing school, two weeks into a new term with an exam on Monday morning. There are people here from other states who stopped what they were doing, packed their bags and drove or flew here to be with us. Lots of you have children — too young to understand what this is all about — for whom you’ve had to arrange sitters. The food’s not that great — not because it couldn’t be, but because it’s not the point. The chairs aren’t that comfortable. And the bonus feature of the evening is to sit up all night in the cold, dark chapel reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians — as if you couldn’t do that warm and comfortable in your own bed.

What did you come here for?

The human heart’s a tricky thing. Our motivations — even for hiding ourselves away for a day and a half of worship and prayer — can range Mother Teresa-pure to diabolical. I don’t know why you’ve come. Maybe you don’t know why you’ve come. But I can tell you why God has come. God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — has come here tonight to meet with you.

To meet with you, just as He met with our guide, St. Symeon, long ago:

Now then, what does this strange thing mean,
this thing happening in me? What would this frightening terror
that is now accomplished signify?
What sort of benevolence has just now been manifested,
a strange wealth of kindness, another fountain of mercy
having much more mercy than the marvels of old?

This strange thing. This frightening terror. A strange wealth of kindness. Another fountain of mercy having much more mercy than the marvels of old.

It’s a complicated thing, meeting God. We’ve been translated from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, but none of us all the way. We are made in the image of the One Who is Light, but the judgement on our race has been passed: we love darkness. Each of us here harbors secrets — junk stashed in the closets of our souls that’s easy to hide with the click of a door when company comes. But what happens when the company moves in to stay?

And so we flirt with God. It’s natural for us. We were made for Him and our deepest places know it and are filled with longing. But when God  starts to flirt with us, we pull back. Because we know instinctively where this is going, and who can bear the full embrace of that all-encompassing, all-revealing Light?

We can’t bear that Light and yet we can’t really live without it. And so the cross is at the center of all Christian prayer and worship. For every moment spent with God, each word spoken to or received from Him is death and birth wrapped into one.

No one has ever seen God. This is mercy, because to see God would be a burning more than we could bear.  But the only begotten Son who is in the Father’s bosom has made God known. Indeed, Jesus says that if we have seen Him — Jesus — then we have seen the Father, the Father whom no one can bear to see. The cross is the resolution of the paradox. When we see that it was God on the cross, and not just a man, it kills us. The Christian proclamation is that to see God on the cross brings death. But when we die with the man-God who hangs there, we are simultaneously raised to the truest life a human being could ever live.

This is why it’s both a frightening terror and a strange wealth of kindness to meet God. When I read St. Symeon, I sometimes wonder what he’s so worked up about. His experience of God seems so extreme. But if I sit, still and alone, in prayer for awhile, I begin to see what he means — the excruciating wonder of it all.

What did God come here for tonight? He came to kill you — and to bring you more to life than you ever knew you could be. All this is beyond our power, even the wanting of it. But you do want it, don’t you? Somewhere in the deep down bottom of your soul? It’s okay to be afraid. St. Symeon was afraid. There are people who perform physical acts of great daring, who win glory in earthly wars, who by risk gain riches, power and fame. But none of the great of this world have ever done anything more dangerous than humble Symeon who sat alone in silence and prayed.

And none have obtained greater wealth than the vision of the blessed Trinity:

For He is revealed both as light and in light to those who look,
and those looking see Him again in the light.
For those who look see in the light of the Spirit,
and those who see in this light look upon the Son.
But one who is worthy to see the Son, sees the Father,
and one who looks on the Father certainly sees Him with the Son.
Like we said, what now is being accomplished in me,
and the things which cannot be known I have somewhat understood,
and now from afar I look upon the beautiful invisible things…

Will you dare to be still and let the miracle of death and life be worked in you? The unapproachable Light draws near and is calling your name. If you feel yourself start to back up from the flame, that’s okay. We all do. But try to stay as near the fire as you can. For that fire is the Holy Spirit who unites you to the Son in whose face you see what humans cannot see. May the Lord have mercy on you, grace and peace.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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