Christ is our pioneer. He has ascended to where we cannot go, to the right hand of the Father. His Spirit holds together the whole long train of the people of the Son. The whole procession, and all the people in it, us included, are made impregnable by his protection. He is making himself visible to the world – and in the first instance we are the means he employs to do so. The Son is making himself visible, but very gently, so that this time no one gets hurt, but so that everyone is drawn into the very slow procession at one end of which Jesus is ready to receive us. Christ is our pioneer. He has ascended to where we cannot go, to the right hand of the Father. He has gained entrance to the palace of the king, and has now made us part of the people of that king. They, or rather, we, stand in a line that stretches back through the door of the palace, outside across the courtyard and out into the world. This procession stretches all the way from there to here, where we are. We are part of the procession that stretches from the Son that loops around, and connects up, all the world. Our leader is at one end, we at the other. We do not see him, but for him this procession is united to him, part of him. His Spirit holds together the whole long train of the people of the Son. The whole procession, and all the people in it, us included, are made impregnable by his protection.
But we cannot see Jesus. He is not visible any more. Why not? If we met Jesus face to face now the result would be the same as before. We would find him impossible, and would lay hands on him, seize him and hand him over. Once we laid our hands on him but he did not use any power against us, did not raise his arms against us, but let us bind him and put him to death. But the Holy Spirit shook off our grip and released him from us, and now makes him invincible, so, now sovereign, he cannot be grasped or captured by any form of perception available to us. Our powers of penetration, detection and control have been overcome. By the resurrection he was torn out of our grasp. So he is not available to us as a single man we can identify by touch or vision. We can no longer take him on our terms. We do not see him, and cannot see him until he has made us holy. We do not have him, but he has us.
Nonetheless the Son is making himself visible. He is making himself visible to the world – and in the first instance we are the means we employs to do so. The Son is making himself visible, but very gently, so that this time no one gets hurt, but so that everyone is drawn into the very slow procession at one end of which Jesus is visible and ready to receive us the minute he has readied us to step into his light without damage. We are being very slowly filled with light. We are being light-proofed, so we can be where he is. The Son sends us the Spirit, and the Spirit is fitting us together and integrating us into the whole huge figure of
the Son. The Son making himself slowly visible – as us. This is not at all to say that we are the Son – but that we are his work, not our own, that we are caught up into a project that is far bigger than us, but which is transforming us into something completely new, and unanticipated, the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit is making us – making us members of the Son. This process we think of in terms of Jesus’ being visible is really the process of our being made holy, that is being filled with the light that floods from him.
You can see the Son in the service of the Christians. You can see him most easily in the service of eucharist, for this is the act by which God calls all the scattered elements of humanity together to make one new people, who are the procession and the body
of the Son. You can learn to see this procession of the Son in the morning eucharist service of St Mary’s, Stoke Newington. There they confess ‘The Holy Spirit …who proceeds from the Father, and the Son.’ The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and bears the Son with him. Then the Son gathers us up, integrates us one into another and takes with him to the Father. The Holy
Spirit makes this procession of the Son. The people of St Mary’s, like every local gathering of Christians, makes this procession visible. The service starts with a little group of people coming in down the side aisle, then turning, and going up the centre to the altar. This group of people are being the Son, in order that we who do not yet have very light-filled eyes, can see
his coming. This group is dressed in white and gold, indicating that they are ready for a wedding and a feast. In this group the cross comes first – there is no other way for Christ to be visible than this. Then come two candles, the lights of the old testament and of the new testament, already giving a single light, then comes the book of Scripture, carried in by someone else, and behind them come whole people of God.
The book is opened, as one day the whole world will be opened, and from it is read the invitation of God. The invitation is made to those who have received no invitation from anyone else, who have received none of the good things of this world. And these very same words are the charge of God made against those who have not passed on all the good things they have received, but have withheld from those who needed them. The word read from Scripture are kind words, of salvation, and they are hard words, of judgment. The gospel is read and the same gospel has these two effects, of invitation and warning. But it is not enough that the gospel is read. It must also be explained. So then someone gets up to open that word, by explaining it by linking today’s reading to last week’s, and to next week’s, and so shows whole journey the people of God have to go. Week by week they are
taught the skills of suffering, of bearing the resistance of the world. They are taught to carry the world. So it is that from this day on we are in the season of Trinity, that is the Christian people are back out in the wilderness, back in the world, obediently receiving its training.
Then when the gospel has been read and opened and our confession made, you can see the Son coming out to get us and to bring us back with him. so in the morning eucharistic service you see the cross processing down the church, just as Christ processed down the cosmos, right to the bottom. This visual aid is played out publicly every week, while the lessons the Word of God, the speaking voice of God, announce to us this Spirit-driven action of the Son. The Son does not consider that he has to work or struggle for his life with the Father. He just goes down to find us, and to us just as he finds us, that is all broken and at cross purposes with one another, and therefore in trouble. He opposes those who deny others what God intends for them. He resists us when in insidious ways we play pharaoh to each other and make each other serve us in the wrong way. He resists us – all the way to the cross. He takes our distress and fury and carries it away to the bottom of the universe and there extinguishes it. For all this, the Father with the Spirit raised him from the dead, and set him over us, our protector, so nothing that threaten us again. The life he expended on us is now ours. As we join this procession, we become real, and as we become real, we begin to see. We will see Jesus, and we will see one another. He is becoming for us the light by which we can see each other for the first time.
Then in the eucharistic service you see the cross leading a little group back up the aisle. They are carrying the paten and cup, the bread and the wine. This bread and this wine are made of all the scattered elements of the creation. We are those scattered elements and we are now being brought up and being made here into one people, one single loaf. Visible and tangible as this loaf and cup we are here lifted up and presented to God. The Son presents his members holy to the Father. The Holy Spirit presents the Son head and body to the Father. the Father approves, heaven rejoices – they sing Holy, holy, holy. Then God feeds us, with the work of his own hands, and the holiness of his hands makes us holy. It fills us with fire and light that drive us on to holiness, until we are thankful people, ready to come closer to God and open our eyes. It is not as individuals that we make Christ visible to the world, but only as we are knitted together into one catholic universal body. Only here is our unity and our individuality given to us. In the single body of the Church, led by Christ its head, all the world is hidden. It whole future is tightly packed in this body, and unpacked publicly little by little before the waiting world every Sunday in this procession. This body lives by hope – that is, it says publicly to the world, that Christ has not come yet, but we look forward to his coming with great glory, and when he
comes we shall be like him.