The third chapter of 1st John reminds me of a mountain. It’s not a mountain I’ve visited; it’s a mountain John visited as a younger man, the Mount of Transfiguration. In front of John’s eyes, Jesus was transfigured in glory before his descent to Jerusalem where he would be condemned to death.
Now, John writes as an old man, an elder pastor of churches following the way of Jesus. Yet John’s sight remains strong in his elder years. John evokes the vivid memories of Christ from the first sentences of his epistle, saying ‘we have seen with our eyes…the word of life.’
‘We have seen with our eyes.’ John’s epiphany of the transfigured Christ was not just an invisible, spiritual experience. It was a visible encounter with Glory Incarnate.
John’s vision of the transfigured Christ became a vision of the resurrected Christ on Easter morning. No one expected the crucified body of Jesus would be made new; no one had seen a human body incapable of death. But that is what John saw with his own eyes on Easter morning.
John’s vision of the transfigured and resurrected Christ forever changed the way he saw human beings. One might say his vision was transfigured by the Transfiguration. For John, love becomes vision: ‘See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.’
But that is not all John sees in the children of God. Just as Jesus possessed a hidden glory to be revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration and the empty tomb, so the sons and daughters of God bear a hidden glory. John invites us to imagine a glory yet to be revealed in the saints of God. ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.’
In a similar spirit, C.S. Lewis famously said,
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you may be strongly tempted to worship…There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.1
Each day you choose self-denial for the sake of loving one another, you enter into God’s transfiguration of your own heart. When you chose to listen deeply and attentively to a friend, a little more glory rises in your heart. Light dawns in your heart when you bear the burdens of a brother or sister as if their burdens were your own. Our destiny is the likeness of Christ: ‘we shall be like Him.’ What is the likeness of Christ? Love. The essence of God is love. This is our destiny in Christ, to be fully transformed in the Image and Likeness of Love Incarnate.
1 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 45-46.