Inheritors of Light

“So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.” (Gal. 4:7)

Evelyn Waugh once said that the ideal relationship between a father and a son consisted of long periods of silence interrupted occasionally by sums of money arriving in the post.  Behind Waugh’s attitude lies a socio-economic reality that would very likely include boarding schools, allowances, skiing in the Alps, university education, a good marriage (whether happy or not), gracious gentlemen’s clubs, a reasonable position in finance, industry or the law, and finally an inheritance – perhaps modest, but meaningful all the same.  The few of those aspects of upper-middle class status that Waugh himself did not enjoy are all supplied handsomely to the characters in his novels.

Put Waugh’s pithy comment a slightly different way: long periods of silence interrupted by dramatic blessings from above.  This is very much the way Jesus’ relationship to God, his Father, is presented in the New Testament.

We have the stunning circumstances of this child’s birth: from shepherds to angels to wise men.  Then: nothing.  The briefest blip on the screen (in one of the Gospels), about a precocious utterance in the synagogue as a child.  Them what?  Eighteen, twenty years of silence, darkness, nothing, (maybe some carpentry).  Until his cousin John the Baptist comes on the scene, as though delivering a long-lost envelope.  And then, in the water, the cloud and the dove and the voice from heaven: This is my Beloved, my Son.  That’s a check you can take to the bank!

More silence, then, until the fateful day at Golgotha.  The man – the Son – is nailed to the Cross, and left there to die!  And there is darkness, and earthquake.  But no voice from above, and no rescue.  And, it would seem, no inheritance.  But then, there is the empty tomb, and the strange and mysterious appearances, and finally his ascension on a cloud – a last, dramatic intervention from above that, if you can believe it, might lead to the ancestral heavenly home, to his seat in the kingdom at the right hand of his Father.

And if this is how we see Jesus’ relationship with God the Father – long periods of silence interrupted by occasional blessings from above - do we really expect any more for ourselves?  And doesn’t it sometimes seem, for us, that the long periods of silence grow longer, and the occasional blessing from above less dramatic – and certainly less frequent?

Saint Paul had no such reservations, and was at pains to remind the first Christians (whether they began as Jews or not), that in Christ we are all part of one, great lineage; linked together by our ancestry in Abraham – which is more figurative than literal - and promised a share of the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven.  

“Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba!  Father!”  The sexist language here is deliberate – since for most of history in most societies (and certainly in Paul’s time) it was only the sons who could expect to be heirs.  But we understand that God has sent the same Spirit into his daughters, crying, “Abba!  Father!” as well.

So much of the world hears this as an empty cry these days.  They point to those long periods of silence in our own lives as though they were proof that there is no Father to call out to, no Abba to hear our cries of worship and love and sorrow and need and joy and wonder.  And there is a suspicion out there in the world – and perhaps here in the church as well - that there is no inheritance to be had for the sons and daughters of God.  There is the suspicion that if there ever was one, it was squandered in the Crusades or the Holocaust or somewhere in Lynchburg, Virginia, but that there is no point in crying out, and nothing to cry for, no Abba listening to hear us.  What possible inheritance could there be from a Father who sends his Son to die on the Cross, and who then sits silently though so much of history?

It’s hard for us not to see the situation in Freudian terms.  No wonder the church went running back to Mary – her mother – in the face of so distant and silent a Father.  No wonder we are saddled with so much dysfunction, considering the strained family dynamic.  No wonder Jesus’ own prayer life is one of anguish, considering the demands of an oft-silent Father.

This is a cynical way to see things, and probably not very good psychology either.  Still, there are many, in our current age, who are eager to point to this Christian family narrative and call it delusional, at best.  And any thought of being heirs, is just crazy: heirs of what?!  Heirs of the legacy of the Bethlehem manger?!   Heirs of the silence of a far away God?!  Heirs of the blood poured out on the Cross?!  What does that get you?!

It is Saint John’s gospel that shows us the rich inheritance that has been ours from the very beginning.  It is in that peerless testimony that we learn about the life that is the light of men and women: the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it, the light that enlightens everyone.  For it is in our fellowship with that light – in Christ our brother – when we believe in his name, that we are given power to become the children of God, whose inheritance comes not because of our family name, or our heritage, or of any will of man, but because we were born of God!  We are inheritors of light!

Abba!  Father!  Why are you so silent?!  Why so distant from this world you made and from the creatures whom you must have loved if you bothered to make us?

God’s answer to this cry is to give us light to shine in the darkness.  It may seem to us like a silent response.  And it may be hard to take it to the bank.  But it is this inheritance that shows us that darkness will never overcome us; that suffering can be transformed into glory; and that death will never be our master.  This is the inheritance of light!

And it depends on one thing: on knowing that Jesus is our brother.

It is in the gift of Christ our brother that God’s long silences are broken.  It is in his daily, bodily presence with us in the eucharist that God’s great distance from us is foreshortened.  And it is in his own language that Christ our brother teaches us how to call out in hope: Abba!  Father!

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is true that God our Father is often a mystery to us.  We are perplexed and often frustrated by his ways, by his silence, by his distance.  Perhaps because God knows himself, did he send us his Son, our brother, to bring us his Spirit and to teach us to cry out, Abba! Father! for anything at all.

Abba! where are you?  I am here, with Christ your brother – for where he is, there I am also.

Abba! I’m scared!   I know, child, trust in the strength of Christ, your brother.

Abba! it is dark, and I am afraid of the dark!  Here is your light, child, Jesus, your brother; the darkness will never overcome him.

Abba! I’m lonely!  Reach out to your brother, child, take his hand, he will never leave you alone.

Abba! We need you!  Here child, inherit the kingdom, ruled by the light of Christ, your brother.  Everything that is his is yours, and there is nothing to fear.

For, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  He is the true light that enlightens everyone.   He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world received him not.  He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.  

And he is our brother.  The Word is our brother.  The light is our brother.  Christ is our brother: yesterday, today, and for ever.  

Thanks be to God for that great Word, spoken once, and sounding still throughout the silences of all the ages.  

Thanks be to God for that light, given once, and shining for ever, overcoming all darkness.  

Thanks be to God for the power given to us all to become his children, brothers with Christ, and co-heirs with him of everlasting glory.

Thanks be to God, to Abba, our Father!  Thanks be to God!

Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
30 December 2007
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia

Posted on December 31, 2007 .