My brother and I have been sorting through our parents’ stacks of photographs. They fill an old trunk to the brim, so we agreed on a couple of ground rules: that we would bravely discard more pictures than we would keep; and that any pictures of unidentifiable babies would be thrown out.
Deep in the top layer, we came upon a series of black-and-white snapshots identified on the back as “St. Pat’s Day ‘48.” These featured scenes from a local parade, and as the floats carried people we didn’t know, the pictures were on their way to the discard pile — until we took a closer look at one of them. It showed an innocuous-looking float bearing a beauty queen in crown and long flowing gown, and proclaiming boldly (are you ready for this?) — “Miss Atom Bomb.” Behind Miss Atom Bomb was a large model of the bomb, and the lettering on the side of the float indicated that the sponsoring organization was the Society of American Military Engineers. In other words, the theme of the float was deadly serious.
I had heard of all sorts of beauty pageants, for men and women both, but I couldn’t get this one out of my mind. So I have been pondering the phenomenon of Miss Atom Bomb, and as I’ve pondered, I’ve remembered that, yes, we too have a crown awaiting us. We are a royal priesthood, as the first letter of Peter says. That makes us beauty queens and beauty kings, called to share in the loveliness of the God who is Beauty: whom Saint Augustine called, “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new.”
Unlike Miss Atom Bomb, however, we find our glory in the cross — an expression of weakness, not of force.
“But God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” (Galatians 6:14)
There is power in the cross, of course, the true power that burst forth on Easter morning — but it is not a power over anyone, not even over those we know are wrong — but a gift of life to all who will accept it.
As Christians we are not to take pride in our own power — whether it resides in weapons of mass destruction, or money, or honors, or physical strength, or intellectual strength. We hear, with Paul, God saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And we can respond, like Paul, “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10).
The crown awaiting us is a crown of life (see James 1:12), a far more desirable crown than the one Miss Atom Bomb is wearing. (By the way, if you are interested in this lesser sort of crown, you can purchase one online, silver plated with rhinestones, for $260.)
What is the glory that that is promised in this best of all beauty pageants?
In the Old Testament, the term glory is often used to express God’s presence as it is perceived by human beings. Therefore in the New Testament, “Christ is presented as the glory of God made visible on earth to those whose eyes are opened to see it…” 1
God does grant us glimpses of glory. It’s just that we don’t always recognize them:
– partly because our human eyes are dim;
– partly, I think, because we are conditioned to thinking of glory in worldly terms: the glory of battle and of military strength (Miss Atom Bomb again); the glory of athletic prowess; the glory of wealth and fame. Society tells us that it is foolish to think of glory in terms of the cross and resurrection. We know better, but it is hard to get beyond our cultural conditioning.
It is easy to praise the glory of God revealed in the magnificence of nature. We have to gaze very reverently, though, to see glory in the people sitting across the breakfast table from us or slumped in front of the television; or in the people in line with us at the grocery store checkout counter; or in the ordinary events of daily life. It takes a special kind of heart-seeing to perceive the glory of Christ in someone slowly dying. (That kind of glory is something Pope John Paul II revealed to many people in his last months on earth.)
In this life we often behold glory in terms of Mystery. We look, we gaze, we feel, we rejoice, and we suffer — and so much of what we experience is incomprehensible to us. We are living the paradox of the already and the not-yet, a tension between the Resurrection of Jesus, which is already a reality in our lives and which expresses the fullness of glory, and our own resurrection, which is still to come. 2 Christ has made all things new, yet we still experience the cross; and we still live in an age that glorifies destructive power (although we are probably too sophisticated now to crown a Miss Atom Bomb).
This is where we are — in the already and the not yet. But this is not where we will always be. “When Christ who is your life is revealed,” says Paul, “then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4).
Christ who is your life right now, Christ who is the path you walk right now, Christ who is your all: when he appears, then you will be revealed with him in glory.
The Johannine writer puts it a little differently, but the meaning is the same.
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
That is our glory. We will be like God. We are already made in the image of God. We are already God’s beloved children, but that likeness is to be fulfilled. In Christ, we will be like God. That is the glory in which we are to grow in this life, and which will be our final destination in Christ.
1. L. H. Brockington, Theological Wordbook of the Bible, edited by Alan Richardson (New York: Macmillan, 1950), 175).
2. See the monumental book by N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress, 2003).