Have you ever thought of the perfect reply to someone’s joke when it’s too late? You can wake up in the night with “what I should have said” staring you in the face – or it can come to you just a few seconds after the conversation has moved on, when to say it would be totally lame. Either way, there’s nothing for it; all you can do is store that little gem somewhere in your brain and hope that one day there will be a similar conversation in which you can slip it in – by which time, of course, you’ve forgotten it.
In similar vein, when we had a stab at singing, “Meekness and Majesty” on Ascension Day, I realised the line from it that I should have put forward for the “best line of the best hymn” competition back in April. “Lord of infinity, stooping so tenderly, lifts our humanity to the heights of his throne.” So now I have to wait for the next Best Hymn Competition, which might be when I’m 85 – or gone to glory.
Not that I really want to topple my original choice – “Emptied himself of all but love” – but Graham Kendrick’s words are such an elegantly simple expression of another deep, deep mystery of faith.
God is unchanging. The same yesterday, today and forever. God could hardly be God if that were not true. There can’t be fickleness, unreliability or “shadow of turning” in God. Yet the Ascension of the risen Jesus into heaven means just that. God has changed.
Whatever the substance of Jesus’ resurrection body is – and he could be prodded, hugged, and observed enjoying barbequed fish – it is real. Not the same as the body he had before Easter Day, but so normal that the disciples could walk alongside him without any suspicion that it was Jesus. Resurrected, but human. And now it has been taken into the very heart of God-ness. It wasn’t there before Jesus’ birth, but it is now, and ever shall be. God has a new normal too.
And yet… (all the best sermons have an “and yet”) God’s nature hasn’t changed. “In the beginning was the Word”, and the Word, there at the beginning of creation, already shared our human nature before humanity even existed. Our true humanity has its source in the very nature of God’s desire to be in communion with creation. “In the beginning was God’s desire to communicate. God’s desire to share love in community. God’s humanness”, might be a small part of what John was saying in those six words. Jesus took on human flesh at his incarnation when he came amongst us, but human nature belonged to God from the start. In fact we draw our humanity from Jesus, rather than he from us. O what a mystery!
But it’s a physical, human body that Jesus has taken into the very heart of the Trinity. Not a mortal body, but a body nonetheless. We believe in the resurrection of the body, and to be human means to have a body, not to just exist in some spiritual, disconnected form.
But now our humanity has been raised. The goal posts of what it means to be human have moved way over the horizon. Jesus, reigning supreme over all creation, is the new gold standard – and we are invited to share in the same destiny. Yes, you and me, with our spots and wrinkles and our lock-down hair disasters. We are sprinkled with clean water, given a heart of love to replace the stony bits, and are lifted to the heights of his throne.
To misquote the old advert, “Only love can do this. Because love reaches the parts nothing else in all creation can ever, ever reach.”
All that (and more I don’t doubt) in one line of one hymn! And I missed the chance to vote for it ….