“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3 ESV)
This wonderful text from the Revelation to Saint John comes right after, in John’s telling, the holy city Jerusalem comes down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. This is but one of the many images used for redemption and salvation in Holy Scripture, but as Paul says, it is a profound one: the very mystery of Christ and His Church. There is something rather scandalous about this image, that we human beings could ever attain to the equality of a marriage with God himself, that we could ever enter into union with God.
But, this is what it means to be made in the image of God, not just that human beings have dignity, but that in every human being, there is the potential for entering into the very life of God. As I never tire of saying: “To be made in the image of God means that you and I were made to be like Jesus.” Yes, like Jesus, beholding the very face and glory of God, enjoying the participation in the Trinity which has always and forever belonged to Jesus. When we read, “The dwelling place of God is with man,” we are given a sense of not just who we were made to be, but who God is, one always seeking to know and be known by his creatures, and human beings in particular. The quality of redemption is not just getting to go to heaven when you die, but in God coming to us, in God bringing the realm of his power and glory “on earth as it is in heaven.”
On Thursday, we will celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. March 25th is a big day. For centuries, Christians have believed that this was not only the date of the Annunciation, but also the date of Good Friday. In the Jewish tradition, according to Benedict XVI, March 25th was not only that, but the date of Abraham’s sacrifice and covenant with God, and the date of the very beginning of creation: “Let there be light.” This may all be the work of fancy and fiction, but it is revealing of deep truth: that the Covenant with Abraham “I will be your God and you will be my people” is brought full circle, that intent of God from the beginning, from the very first casting of light, to be truly with us. One of the aspects of this which we so easily forget is that the full manifestation of this act of God in the Incarnation is not in Nazareth, but on the Cross: for it is in the crucified flesh of Jesus that we see with sharp clarity His divine life: a kenotic outpouring of his life before the Father, and an outpouring of his life and blood for us.
The Feast of the Annunciation has always gotten rather shortchanged in the Church’s liturgical life. First, it’s normally in Lent, and it winds up getting delayed, often well into Eastertide. Secondly, for whatever reason, Christmas is the major commemoration of the Incarnation, and the date nine months prior is almost forgotten. Nevertheless, the Feast of the Annunciation is, according to the Book of Common Prayer, a Red-Letter Day - a Holy Day marked out by red ink in liturgical books according to ancient custom, a day for feasting and worship. The purpose of this Feast, as for all the feasts of our Lord, is to orient us to the life of Jesus: and the purpose of that is to prepare us for the life of redemption, life lived in union with the Lord.
On this day, we think also of Mary, and therefore the day is often called Lady Day, remembering her surrender to the Word of God. I love what the priest poet Malcolm Guite writes of this in his sonnet for the Annunciation:
On this day a young girl stopped to see
With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;
The promise of His glory yet to be,
As time stood still for her to make a choice;
Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,
The Word himself was waiting on her word.
Mary becomes, through her fiat, the very dwelling place of God, the first human being to become so. Dwelling in her is God and Man in one divine person, so we see not only the glory of the Incarnation, but the fruit of it, the fruit of the Divine Image, total and unqualified participation in the divine life. Christians have understood since the beginning that we can even speak of this mystery in terms of deification. To participate in the very flesh of God means nothing less than becoming by grace what we are not by nature: that is, divine. Likewise, the Church lives out her vocation as the very living Temple of God, the continuation of the Incarnation in this world, a divine humanity, to borrow the words of the Singaporean theologian Simon Chan. To put it simply, the Annunciation tells us who we are. And right before Holy Week, what a powerful reminder of what God has done simply to be with us!
In other news:
This week, a new set of Stations of the Cross will be installed. These were a memorial gift to the parish, and they will be used this coming Friday and on Good Friday at 3 pm as well.
The next two Sundays, Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday respectively, will be celebrated with a single outdoor Eucharist in the Pecan Grove. All are encouraged to bring chairs and blankets. For the Easter Vigil on April 3rd, we will gather for the lighting of the new fire and the vigil readings before going into the church for the celebration of the first Eucharist of Easter. Some will choose to head home at the conclusion of the Great Vigil to come back for the following day. But, for those who wish to greet the Risen Lord late at night, we will be inside.