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Seeing through the trees

"If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I." John 14. 28

Still basking in the theological light of Trinity Sunday - which celebrates the full revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit - it is jarring to be confronted with a verse which seems to undermine it all! Can we explain away Jesus' unfavourable comparison of himself with "the Father" as false modesty? Unlikely...

Behind these words of Jesus is the struggle his disciples were having with the prospect of his leaving them - through death, resurrection and ascension. To console them, Jesus unpacks a little of his extraordinary nature: he set aside his majesty in order to enter Creation and in so doing lowered himself. Now he is returning to the fulness of his heavenly glory, in order that we might be raised up with him.

So it is not that Jesus has been setting two members of the Godhead (Son and Father) against one another. Rather, Jesus is referring to two manifestations of himself as God (transcendent in glory, yet descended upon the earth through incarnation) in a pastoral gesture to bring comfort to his prematurely grieving disciples.

It is fair to add that, in his lowering of himself Jesus never abandoned his glory, nor did he cease to be God. In the year 453 the Church held a meeting at a place called Calcedon in Asia Minor, which is now a district of the Turkish city of Istanbul. There, wiser minds than mine hammered out the belief that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. That meeting (or council as it is more properly called) did not invent the doctrine but they highlighted what had been true from the beginning but was in danger of being lost because of the mis-interpretation of verses such as the one above.

Today we celebrate another champion of the full revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit: our own Colum Cille, or Saint Columba as he is commonly known. It's a reminder that the missionary spirit which he imbues belongs to all of us who are called out as witnesses and disciples of the Lord Jesus (which is what "church" means: ek-klesia). That's all of us!

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