Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The face of God. That’s what this feast is about – the face of God, seeing the face of God, God revealing His face to us. If we did a quick search of our Biblical concordances for the words face and countenance, we would find that in our English translations, together, those words are used in excess of 300 times, making them relatively significant. In these days of the COVID pandemic, this idea of faces, of seeing someone’s countenance, has risen to the fore for many of us. Somehow, instinctively, we know that we are not intended to wear a facemask, to obscure our countenance from another, because the human face speaks volumes and communicates a world of information. For me, I dislike using the telephone because I depend on reading someone’s face for signals and signs so that I can get a sense of them. (This doesn’t mean I like using Skype, however, which is a whole other matter.)
In Sacred Scripture, the face of God is utterly vital. The Psalmist implores God not to hide His face or to turn away His face, for in doing so it means trouble and, ultimately, death (Ps. 103 :29), while there are other times God is beseeched to turn away His face from our sins, thus not holding our sins against us and remembering them no more (Ps. 50 :9). We all know what it means when someone turns their face away in shame or guilt. We try to hide our faces so that others cannot behold our shame or our guilt. I suspect Adam and Eve did their fair share of that when they were eluding God after the Fall in the Garden.
The face reveals much about us, especially our interior selves. I suspect the eyes play a crucial part in this since they are windows into the soul. It is devastating when the face is catastrophically disfigured. It’s the stuff horror films are made of. Without a face, what do you really have? Somehow the face completes the person. It may even be what makes a person a person. I’m kind of thinking on the fly here. In times of trouble and sore affliction, we pray God not to turn His face away from us, but to hear us speedily and come to our rescue (Ps. 68 :17-18). Someone can turn their face away in disgust or displeasure, and we know what that means, maybe even how it feels. To seek God, so Scripture says, is to “seek the face of the God of Jacob” in which there is great blessing (Ps. 23 :5-6). Indeed, the great blessing of the priest, Aaron, Moses’ brother, was delivered to him by God Himself and invokes this very thing as the priest puts the Name of God upon the people:
‘The Lord bless thee and keep thee; the Lord make His face to shine upon thee, and have mercy upon thee; the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace’ (Nm. 6:22-27).
In today’s Gospel, we find that our Lord “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” which means Jesus was bent on going to Jerusalem no matter what. Like flint rock, He was determined and would not be deterred nor distracted nor dissuaded because He had to be received up, that is, crucified for the life of the world and for its salvation (Lk. 9:51-56; 10:22-24; Prothesis). We get that image, don’t we?
Interestingly enough, however, is the conversation of God with His Prophet, Moses, who had asked to see the glory of God. God says to Moses,
‘I will make all My goodness pass before thee; and I will proclaim the Name of the Lord before thee, and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
And then God goes on to say, “’Thou canst not see My face, for there shall no man see Me and live’” (Ex. 33:17-23). The face of God Almighty is associated with the very essence of God, with His divine nature, which no one can see or gaze upon or behold or partake of and survive! It would be like us trying to enter into the sun itself! It’s just not possible. We can know God, but not in His very essence. We can know His “’back parts,’” to use God’s words to Moses, “’but My face shall not be seen.’”
And yet, as Moses says to God later on when the two are conversing about the possibility of God disinheriting the whining and complaining Israelites and starting afresh with Moses to make of Moses an even greater nation, Moses says to God,
‘Then the Egyptians shall hear it (for Thou broughtest up this people in Thy might from among them), and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land; for they have heard that Thou, Lord, art among this people, that Thou, Lord, art seen face to face, and that Thy cloud standeth over them, and that Thou goest before them by daytime in a pillar of cloud and in a pillar of fire by night’ (Nm. 14:10-14).
In the worship of the Tabernacle where God’s glory is made manifest, God reveals Himself personally to His people, as a God Who is seen “’face to face.’”
“No one has seen God at any time,” declares the Holy Gospel. “The only begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (Jn. 1:18). “And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). And, again, once when His Disciple, Philip, asked to be shown the Father, Jesus replied, “’He who has seen Me has seen the Father; . . . .’” (Jn. 14:9). Jesus can say this because He and the Father are one, that is, of one divine nature and essence (Jn. 10:30). In short, beloved, our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is the face of God. He reveals God to us because He Himself is “Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made; . . . .” (Nicene Creed).
In Christ God, in our worship of Him, in this place where the glory of God dwells, resides, tabernacles, we come face to face with God because He is a God Who knows His Church and is known by His Church “face to face,” even as Moses said to God, “’Thou, Lord, art among this people, . . . Thou, Lord, art seen face to face.’” This feast of the Image of Christ “Not-Made-by-Hands” is about the face of God being revealed to us in the very image of the Son of God and Word of the Father made flesh. This is what the Apostle is driving at this morning in his rather lengthy run-on sentence. Jesus Christ, that is, “the Son of [the Father’s] love,” is “the image [icon] of the invisible God, . . . .” (2 Cr. 4:4). The glory of God that filled the Tabernacle, that Meeting Place with God, is fulfilled and revealed in and through Jesus Christ. His glory – He – is the face of God that shines upon us, the countenance of the Father’s blessing. The Son of God Whom we worship with the fullest adoration is “the brightness of [the Father’s] glory and the express image [icon] of His Person, . . . .,” Paul says elsewhere (Hb. 1:1-4). We need go no further to see the Father when we behold the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
The Son of God is not in the image of God, as we have been created (Gn. 1:26-27; WS 2:23), but He is the very image of God – the original, the authentic icon of God. To kiss His icon is to kiss God. And so, when our Lord sent His facial image “not-made-by-hands” on a towel to the ruler of Edessa named Abgar to heal him of his leprosy and Abgar kissed the face of Christ, he kissed the face of God. And God’s countenance shined on him and healed the ruler of his leprosy. Abgar beheld the glory of the Father in the only begotten Son of God, “full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14).
The Scriptures further attest that this Jesus is, in fact and without doubt, pre-eternal with the Father, always existing and ever the same. “[B]y Him all things were created,” both visible and invisible, on earth and in Heaven. Through Him the Father has created and all things were created for the Son of God, so that the Son of God is the goal of all creation. His power upholds the very universe as Pantocrator (Hb. 1:3). Amazingly, He Who is the very image of God (because He is God) is fashioned “in the likeness of men” by His birth from the Ever-Virgin Mary, true Theotokos, from whom He took His entire human composition (Pp. 2:7, 8). Thus, He is the true and sole “Mediator between God and men” because the Man, Jesus Christ, is the “one God and one Mediator between God and men” (1 Tm. 2:5). In Him, that is, in His Person, both God and man are united eternally.
The psalmist chants, “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, hath been signed upon us; . . . .” (Ps. 4:6). In the waters of Holy Baptism, this is fulfilled most fully when we who are flesh and blood receive the image of God Himself, Jesus Christ, and become partakers with Him in the divine nature by grace (2 Pe. 1:4). We put on Christ Who is the new Man and we are sealed with the Holy Spirit so that in Him, that is, in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we become a new man – new creations – who are being renewed, Paul says, “according to the image of Him Who created [the new man]” (2 Cr. 5:17; Ga. 3:27; 6:15; Ep. 4:13, 24; Co. 3:10). In other words, we are being impressed with the die Who is Jesus Christ so that His image of true righteousness and holiness is being imprinted upon us and He is being formed in us (Ga. 4:19). We come face to face, then, with Christ God Who heals our sin. He restores us who have been disfigured by death so that we, too, may “be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” For this, we stand at the Altar and “[give] thanks,” that is, we make eucharist “to the Father Who has qualified [even] us [sinners].”
‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you, and have mercy upon you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace’ (Nm. 6:22-27).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
Lk. 9:51-56; 10:22-24