I love good surprises. This past weekend, our youngest daughter became engaged and even though we all knew something was in the air, her fiance managed to keep the time and place under wraps. So when the happy couple burst through the side door of our house and came up the stairs into our kitchen, we were able to join in the good news with spontaneous joy.
Reading the 14th chapter of Julian of Norwich brought its own surprise. Thus far, the visions have been about what I expected: scenes of Christ's passion, images of God's power and sovereignty and affirmations of God's love. But Chapter 14 caught me off guard. In this brief vision, Julian reveals the extent of God's "honorable thanks" given to us, His servants (His children) during our time here on earth.
Having grown up in the church, God thanking me isn't a new concept. After all, I'm quite familiar with the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25 and Luke 19, where at the end of the story Jesus commends his servant by saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant, share your master's happiness." I guess I've always imagined a long line of people who, when they reach God are given a handshake and salute, or some sort of appreciation gift. Sort of like what happens at a yearly employee appreciation banquet I attended at my last job. Appropriate, but not life-changing.
(more after the break)
Julian's chapter does begin with an appreciation banguet, but after that, all comparison pales. Her "understanding is lifted up into heaven where [she sees] our lord in his own house who has called all his dear-worthy servants and friends to a solemn feast...he royally reigned in his house and fulfilled it with joy and mirth." In her vision she is shown "three degrees of bliss that...every soul shall have that wilfully has served God in any degree on earth." The first is the "honorable thanking" that is received from the Lord upon being delivered from pain (death.) The second is that "all the blessed creatures in heaven all see the honourable thanking, and he (God) makes his (the person's) service known to all that are in heaven." The third is that it "shall last, without end." In addition, "the age of every man shall be known in heaven, and he shall be rewarded for his wilful service and for his time; and particularly the age of those who wilfully and freely offer their youth to God is rewarded surpassingly and wonderfully thanked."
Wow. I'm not sure what it takes for this vision to soak into my spirit. I've heard many a pastor seek to motivate a congregation to obey God out of gratitude. Especially as we approach Easter week, the magnitude of Christ's suffering is given as strong impetus for serving God. But Julian offers a different motivation. God will really, really be grateful. He will be genuinely pleased. He will be over-the-top appreciative of every thing that we do out of love. In fact, this "thanking is so high and so honourable," says Julian, "that [the servant] thinks it would fill him though there were no more; for I thought that all the pain and travail that might be suffered by all living men might not deserve the honourable thanks that one man shall have that wilfully has served God."
But the thanking doesn't stop there. There's a breadth to this gratitude, and a length that's equally amazing. God isn't stingy with His thanks. Should this surprise me? I know that God is generous...But really? Compared to what God has done for me, the fact that everyone will know all that I have done for Him seems extreme. Maybe if I were a martyr, maybe if I were Paul or Peter. But Julian sees that everything that everyone has done is celebrated, proclaimed, remembered, on display. And the extravagance of this thanking only speaks even more to the largesse of God.
Finally, there's the insight that what matters even most to God, and receives His greatest adulation and heartfelt appreciation, is the service that's offered to Him by children. What a motivation to a child! Not to hear that "you should do this, or God will be unhappy" or "do this because it's right", but rather "Every time you choose to act in a loving way, you make God happy. And one day when you see Him, He will let you know." I've always wondered if you could overpraise a child, but if God's the example, perhaps lavish thanks is the standard.
Medieval Gaelic courts were often graced by the present of a bard, a professional poet/musician/seer. The purpose of this hired songster was to write and perform music that would praise the exploits of the king. It was his job to make sure nothing good was forgotten and the promise of eternal glory could often motivate heroic action in the face of danger or distress. Here is Julian's surprise: In the kingdom of heaven, God himself is the bard. Our loving obediences comprise lyrics which are woven into a melody heard throughout the universe. To our amazement and because of God's grate(great)fulness, no good deed will be unsung. And so, Julian concludes her chapter by saying: "And the more that the loving soul sees the courtesy of God, the more he desires to serve him all the days of his life."