whose Son was revealed in majesty
before he suffered death upon the cross,
give us faith to perceive his glory,
that being strengthened by his grace
we may be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
What is faith? I’m currently reading a recent academic article by Timothy Troutner (a doctoral student at Notre Dame) that takes up the question of silence or language in Beatitude. Halfway through he presents an excursus that discusses the linguistic turn that has come to define the postmodern philosophy of Derrida, Wittgenstein and others. Such a turn cannot but lead to despair and nihilistic doubt, because it concludes that all communication is a repeating series of significations that can never achieve a “thing signified” outside of it. Famously (or infamously), il n’y a pas de hors-texte.
Of course, Christians can’t utterly affirm Derrida’s conclusion, if we truly believe that God is Creator who has given us existence from beyond us, and Redeemer and Sanctifier who gathers us into eternal fellowship as the very meaning of that given existence. God is l’hors-texte.
But how do we know this? How do we access or come to believe this? The postmodern turn is nevertheless instructive in describing such human creaturely access, at least in a way that is relevant to the anxieties, doubts and concerns of our age. Clearly, plain assent to catechetical propositions is insufficient, as is a purely empirical deduction from data. It may have seemed like they were in the past, since those were the main avenues for transmitting faith, or, “The Faith.” But in reality, there was so much under the surface that could be assumed among the mass of everyday churchgoers in Christendom. As I discussed last year regarding the language of Christian “duty” and “sacrifice,” that which is assumed gets left unsaid, what gets unsaid is forgotten, the forgotten gets unknown and, perhaps more importantly, not experienced. It’s even possible that people experience the opposite of what is intended.
What is intended is a sanctifying encounter with God and God’s people; as the Collect petitions, to “perceive,” be “strengthened” and “changed” by faith, grace, the likeness of God. These are words—this is language—that means something profound, because there’s a story behind it. And behind that story is the reality of God’s timeless love, known to us in time by the story of God coming to God’s people. And it’s a story told and heard–a story we encounter–through human language.
The part of the story that Lent focuses on is the journey from the Transfiguration to the Crucifixion. The hidden truth is that this is a journey “from glory to glory, from strength to strength.” Christ is “revealed in majesty” on the mountain, the one in whom “Law and Prophets meet.” God’s boundless reign is revealed as Christ passes through death on the Cross and unassailably remains God. But what do we mean by the term “glory,” which we tend to use more than we think? Tom Wright has a short video that helps us understand:
Tangible, palpable authority. A reign that can be experienced as grace that strengthens us to love, suffer, endure and abide with others in ways we didn’t think we could. We are drawn into the story of hope that at the Last Day, and in the smaller, provisional ways we experience every day, we will “be changed into his likeness,” from the glory of Creation to the glory of eternal life. And we are given a vision through which we perceive God’s faithfulness to provide for and sustain us when we don’t know how we’ll provide for ourselves. Or a vision of trust that teaches us gratitude for God’s provision when we might ascribe it to our steady paycheck, stable home, regular food, constant family and friends. When we perceive God’s glory, God enables us to trust that as we step out our door (or under These Circumstances, log onto Zoom) to love, serve and connect with others, it is because God is telling his story through us, and because he has our back in the process. These may be signs of God’s provision, the story and language of God’s provision, expressing the reality of God’s faithfulness behind it. A reality that transcends each of our circumstances, because God is free to be present in all of our circumstances.
This is the story we are drawn into, the reality we can experience with the gift of faith.