In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Moses said to the LORD, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”
And He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
And he said to Him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
And the LORD said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’
John of Damascus, Apologia Against Those Who Decry Holy Images, I
Of old they who did not know God, worshipped false gods. But now, knowing God, or rather being known by Him, how can we return to bare and naked rudiments? I have looked upon the human form of God, and my soul has been saved. I gaze upon the image of God, as Jacob did, though in a different way. Jacob sounded the note of the future, seeing with immaterial sight, whilst the image of Him who is visible to flesh is burnt into my soul.
The first Sunday of Lent commemorates the “Triumph of Orthodoxy,” when Empress Theodora in 842 restored the icons to the Church of the Holy Wisdom and the iconoclastic controversy finally ended. Without delving too deeply into the history of the controversialist theology of the question over iconodulism, it is important to note that the issue was not primarily about “praying to idols” (which is how Protestants, in particular, are apt to view it). It was the last great Christological controversy of the unified church. At stake was the idea that God came in the flesh, a flesh which appeared just like your flesh or my flesh. Christ’s body was one which, according to John, “we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands” (1 John 1:1).
This, the Incarnation, is the greatest of the Christian wonders. The idea that God would pass before Moses and that Moses could actually see God (whatever that means) baffles us. The Incarnation was something more, because, unlike Moses, humanity was allowed to see God face-to-face. John not only saw him and heard him, but he touched him. It is with this in view that we must read the prologue of the Gospel of John. The Word through which everything was made, which was with God, which was God, on which John lavishes such lofty theological language is the Word which became flesh, who in the form of a man consented to be perceived with our vulgar senses.
And like John of Damascus, we can testify that we have seen God and that his image is burned on to our souls. We see him through the testimony of those who have come before us. Even if our eyes do not perceive him directly, we stand in an unbroken spiritual chain with John and countless others who did see him thus. More fully we see him still, as I firmly believe that Christ is really and substantially encountered by every Christian in every age. He truly indwells as the image of the Father, enshrined in our souls, making us temples of divinity. Still more glorious is the promise that we will yet see him in eternity. Traditionally, the text for this Sunday is later in John 1, where Jesus promises his disciples “You will see greater things than these…Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (vv. 50-51). We know that this promise holds true even for us, and that we can hope for a time when we will see Christ glorified at the right hand of the throne of the Father.
Lent should be a time to encounter Christ, specifically in his suffering on our behalf. Each of us has wandered into our own spiritual wilderness and committed to be tried for forty days. If you seek him, you will find that Jesus is waiting for you in that desert. When the devil tempts you to break fast, you can say “Man does not live by bread alone” and trust that these are the words of the Bread of Life. He will sustain us all.
O our Savior! Of ourselves we cannot love thee, cannot follow thee, cannot cleave to thee;
but thou didst come down
that we might love thee
that we might follow theee,
didst bind us around thee as thy girdle
that we might be held fast unto thee;
Thou who has loved us, make us to love thee,
Thou who has sought us, make us to seek thee,
Thou who, when lost, didst find us,
be thou my thyself the way
that we may find thee
and be found in thee
our only hope, and our everlasting joy.
–Edward Bouverie Pusey