Jesus answered (Nathanael), “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these. Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
This week’s text is a reference to the story of “Jacob’s Ladder” in the Old Testament and the radical implications of the Incarnation.
Remember Jacob’s Ladder? Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and fled into the desert. Eventually he stopped running and fell asleep, exhausted. The heavens opened and he saw angels ascending and descending on the place he occupied. Celtic spirituality calls this sort of thing a “thin place” where the boundary between heaven and earth thins out – the divine and human greet each other with a holy kiss and unite in holy matrimony. As a result, Jacob awakens to God’s loving presence, and he sees his place of desolation as holy ground and a gateway to heaven. He stacks a pile of rocks and calls it Bethel – “the house of God.”
Jesus builds on this familiar story. The heavens open again. This time, however, the angels ascend and descend not on a place, but on a person – “The Son of Man.” In Jesus, the divine and human become one. In other words, Jesus is God’s holy presence in a hurting world, sanctifying this world and everything in it. We might call Jesus the ultimate “thin person,” who reveals what has always been true, but hard to see. In Christ, everything is holy. Not the kind of holy that separates and divides, but the kind that unites and makes whole – the kind that sees all things as related, of one piece. This is the mystery of the Incarnation.
Yes, everything is holy, even and especially desperate fugitives in desolate places. The sacred is hidden inside the profane, wanting to be discovered! Every person and every place is a burning bush ablaze with God’s glory – if we can only see it. Creation is a cathedral, and each person is an altar at which we kneel and give thanks to God. The world itself and everything in it is a sacrament. This, I believe, is the “greater thing” Jesus speaks of in this week’s text.
I realize this perspective is challenging, but the most orthodox teaching has always insisted that the Incarnation unites what the world divides. It turns common ground into holy ground. There is nothing that is not saturated with the loving presence of God – nothing! There is nowhere we can flee God’s presence – nowhere (Ps. 139)! Love and laughter are everywhere.
This simple insight radically changes our posture in life. It is the difference between drudgery and delight. In the end, the world is not holy because we love it. We love it because it is holy. Our job is to see and celebrate this joyful reality, especially with those who are blind to it. Everything is holy now. Can we see it?
Check out this short video that introduces the Born From Below training to explore the meaning of the Incarnation in hard places.:
Or check out this song, “Holy Now,” by Peter Mayer. It is the unofficial anthem of the Street Psalms Community.