April 21, 2024


This sermon was preached at Choral Evensong at Liverpool Cathedral on the 3rd Sunday After Easter, 2024.

“And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”

One Wednesday morning, about 10 years ago, in Widnes of all places, I saw the glory of God. And I will never forget it.

Glory is a major theme in our service this evening. We have heard twice from Handel about the glory of the Lord, we have sung three times “Glory be to the Father…”, and we have heard that the glory of the Lord appeared to the Israelites after their complaining in the wilderness.

So, to rephrase Handel, what is this glory? What does it look like when we see it? Or is it something more to be felt than seen?

Those of you who know a little Hebrew will know that the word which we translate into English as ‘glory’ is כָּבוֹד, which has a close etymological link with the word כָּבֵד, which we usually translate as ‘heavy’ or ‘weighty’. When we think about the glory of the Lord we must think about something heavy, something which weighs down upon those who encounter it. Like, as it was revealed to the Israelites, a great storm cloud that hangs overhead, full of power and potential, pressing down on the air around you so much that your joints begin to ache and your ears pop.

Those of you who know even more Hebrew might know that כָּבֵד is also often translated as ‘liver’, but the liver of the Lord doesn’t make such a good sermon, so we’ll stick to the weighty glory. That same glory which the Israelites saw after complaining 3,000 years ago on the Sinai peninsula, and which I saw 10 years ago on a Wednesday morning in Widnes, and I will never forget it.

Speaking of mornings in Widnes, I used to go to morning prayer at my sending church, St. Basil and All Saints. We would gather, me, my grandad, and several old Roman Catholic ladies, and we would do more or less the same thing every morning. Everyone would shuffle into their usual places, complaining about aches and pains and the state of the world. Then we would pray, bringing the same petitions before God day in, day out, using the same prayers with the same wording for all those causes that were so close to our hearts: the peace of the world, the unity of the church, the plight of the hungry, the safe return of missing children. It was, and I say this with all the affection in the world, a mundane experience. Every day was the same shuffling, complaining, and praying. Only the Bible readings changed to offer some novelty.

I remember one morning, we had heard the same part of the exodus narrative that we heard this evening: the giving of manna. I remember the conversation that my grandad and I had in the car afterwards. The name manna is most likely a folk etymology, but it comes from the phrase the Israelites said, not knowing what it was: מָן הוּא, translated in our reading as the question “What is it?” It seems appropriate then that, after reading of this bread named for a question, my grandad and I simply asked each other questions which neither could answer. “What did the manna taste like? Was it oily or bready or sweet or all at once?”, “If we, two gentiles, had been walking through the wilderness at the time, would we have been able to eat it too?”, “If we, two gentiles, had been there, would we have been able to see the glory of the Lord too?”

And of course, on one morning, about 10 years ago in Widnes, I did see the glory of the Lord, and I will never forget it.

On a different Wednesday morning in Widnes, a couple of weeks ago, I took the sacrament to my grandfather. There isn’t a great deal that he can remember now, as he suffers with dementia, but he can often remember the words to the prayers of the Common Worship Eucharist, the actions and tunes of choruses, and certain phrases from the Bible. It makes home communion a really valuable thing to do with him. On this particular occasion though, he could remember almost nothing. He didn’t join in with any words, and he couldn’t remember even how to eat the bread. I had to put it directly onto his lips to trigger some unforgotten reflex. Still though, it was valuable.

See, when Christ came and described himself as the living bread that came down from heaven, he made no claims about understanding or remembering, only about eating. We, like the Israelites naming the manna, are desperate to turn this bread into a question. We want to be able to think and understand our way through it, but God resists this tendency and comes to us as bread. God comes as food which sustains simply by eating, and not only that but as the most pedestrian version of food. So that even one who has forgotten what to say, what to ask, or even who he is, can receive it by reflex and live forever.

I saw the glory of God one Wednesday morning ten years ago in Widnes and I will never forget it. Not because it was remarkable or because it was dazzling or because it was exciting, but because it was mundane. I will remember it in a far more fundamental way than any sort of recollection. It will remain with me even when all events fall from my mind. I will never forget it because I have never really remembered it at all. It was not in a moment, but in a routine. It was not on a particular Wednesday but on all of the Wednesdays that I prayed, and all of the Mondays and Thursdays too for that matter. It was not an energy in the dancing and praising of an enthusiast, but a hefty weight borne on the shoulders of shuffling, grumbling pensioners coming to bring everything before God. The glory of the Lord is mundane, and easily missed, and even now as I try to remember it I am failing to look for it now in the every day.

The thing about the glory of the Lord revealed in a cloud to the Israelites, is the cloud was there the whole time. From the moment they left Egypt there was a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night leading them, and this was the glory of the Lord. When they thought back to the glory of the Lord that they had once seen in Egypt, they complained and grumbled under the very weight of glory that they could not see. All that they did to see the glory of the Lord was turn and look at the cloud that had been there the whole time. The weighty, everyday, glorious presence. The true, quotidian bread from heaven, for which we pray. This is what we mean when we say glory.

I’d like to finish with a folk etymology of my own. I mentioned that the Hebrew root כבד can mean both liver and glory, so let this city of Liverpool be a place of glory. I pray that this place where we make our homes and our livings, this place that is for us the every day, may be a pool of that weighty, mundane glory that we only need to look to see.

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