I will not forget last weekend as long as God allows my memory to function. Last Saturday I had the privilege of joining over 400 of my brothers and sisters in Christ from the Ohio Conference at St. Paul’s in Columbus as we celebrated Reformation 500 gathered around Word and sacrament. And the next day, the privilege repeated itself! This time it was with 2,200 of my brothers and sisters in Christ from Michigan at the Dow Events Center in Saginaw in another celebration of the gospel in Scripture, song, and Supper! Multiple times as we sang the hymns the thought stole across my mind that this was a little taste of joining the thunderous heavenly chorus around God’s throne singing praise for his glorious grace in Jesus!
Yes, gathering with hundreds of fellow Christians to celebrate Reformation 500 was wonderful. That was a God-given extra-ordinary glimpse of glory. But how foolish of me to get so caught up in the extra-ordinary that I forget that there are far more opportunities to glimpse glory in the ordinary! It is indeed the holy ordinary!
How powerfully Jesus proclaims that glorious reality in the gospel for Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46)! Yes, this text seeks to fix our gaze on the glorious comfort of his grace that will say to all believers on the Last Day that final word of triumph: “Come!” With that gracious invitation he will welcome us into the freely-given kingdom inheritance prepared for us in his blood long before we drew our first breath.
But weren’t the words that followed also meant to lift our eyes to see by faith the unseen glory of the earthly existence we already live? Note the ordinariness of the fruits of faith that Jesus uses on the Last Day to give evidence before the gathered nations that we are his believing sheep! He does not mention anything that would make headlines in any earthly newspaper or news network web site or blog post. He talks about the quiet mercy extended to those in need of the necessities of food, drink and clothing. He speaks of time devoted and care given to comfort and encourage the sick and imprisoned.
And then he stuns the sheep! They are not stunned, I am convinced, because they had no memory of doing any such things. Their own words (note the repeated “you?”) tell us that they are stunned to learn that every fruit of faith lived out for even the humblest brother or sister in the faith has been received by Jesus as if done directly for him!
And suddenly things so mundane in the world’s eyes – and too often in my own eyes – are transformed by Jesus’ extraordinary grace into the holy ordinary! Those ordinary things glow with the holy because they are done by those declared righteous in Christ. And they are doubly holy because behind our brother or sister in Christ stands the Lord himself receiving every gospel-inspired fruit of faith of his sheep as if each act was done directly for him.
If this text works as Jesus intends, we will be among the least surprised – though still delighted! – sheep on the Last Day. Jesus feels no need to give us a “spoiler alert” for ruining the surprise, because his very intention of telling us ahead of time is to clue us in to this otherwise hidden reality! Already now he delights for us to enjoy each day the gift of seeing the holy ordinary in each godly vocation in which we serve.
Yes, I know, this glory is often hidden under the cross of suffering and difficulty. Yes, it will be hidden from the view of the sinful world and even of our own sinful nature in what appears to be the dullness and routine of our earthly vocations. But this glory in Christ is no less real for its hiddenness.
May I share with you a pastoral-ministry paraphrase of what Jesus says here in Matthew 25? Jesus says to you, “I was that troubled teen who needed an ear to listen when he had disgraced himself and his family by his sin, and you were the mouth that forgave me!” “I was terminally ill and on my death bed in the hospital, afraid and feeling all alone at the approach of that last great enemy, and you came with the smile of your face to speak the gracious Word of my God whose face was even in that moment shining on me, and I fell asleep in peace.” “I was your son or daughter or spouse whose tear you dried when life’s disappointments had come crashing down on them and you were not too busy to give ear and listen as the tangible evidence of the God who heard them too.”
God forgive us for trudging through life all too ignorant of the God-given glory of our ordinary tasks in our ordinary callings in the ordinary days of our lives! Don’t wait for those days of extra-ordinary glimpses of heavenly glory. Don’t wait to be among the most surprised forgiven and righteous sheep at his right hand on the Last Day. He has clued you in now to give you the extra-measure gift of enjoying his surprise ahead of time! Find the joy waiting for you when you take Jesus at his Word and see the hidden glory of the holy ordinary!