Weight of Glory Anniversary Reflections
This year (2013) marks the 72nd anniversary of C.S. Lewis giving his famous sermon “The Weight of Glory.” He preached it on June 8, 1941 at St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford. If I understand correctly this was only the second time he was in any pulpit. His debut sermon was actually at the same location on October 22, 1939. On that date the message was called “None Other Gods: Culture in War-Time,” but it’s known today as “Learning in War-Time.” That talk was enjoyed so much that when Ashely Sampson was editing a book called Famous English Sermons (published in 1940) he got permission from Lewis to include it. Yet, as already noted, “The Weight of Glory” shines as his best message.
A key reason for considering “The Weight of Glory” as his greatest sermon is the near perfect balance of it being a carefully reason talk that has highly memorable quotes and illustrations. He began with wanting us to consider the highest virtue and announces that most would proclaim “Unselfishness” supreme. We are then immediately warned how far this misses the mark because it reverses the priority of the champion, Love.
“The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.”
Thus, self-denial, as Lewis notes immediately after this, while important is not to be “an end in itself.” Next he points out what the result of the correct form of denying ourselves is and the fact that it makes “an appeal to [our] desire[s].
What follows then is a lengthy elaboration on why this “promise of reward” shows that our Earthly desires are “not too strong, but too weak,” and also why it not “a mercenary affair” to be offered such a reward. For there are both “proper” and “mercenary” (or inappropriate) rewards.
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
The only drawback to this sermon is that (like myself) many individuals today are not familiar enough with some of the allusions Lewis uses. Here he speaks of Greek poetry and several literary figures many people today don’t read. If you are like me in this please consider visiting a site by Arend Smilde where he has a section on “The Weight of Glory” explaining its quotations and allusions.
Next Lewis uses a parallel that, like a student, we don’t understand how our lessons lead to an enjoyment we have never tasted, so as earthly creatures we have only a foretaste of our “ultimate reward.” And yet there are some tastes here we can get so fixed on that we let it overshadow thinking about “our real destiny.”
“If we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object.”
Shortly after he provides for us this haunting expression of our experiences here on earth of the beauty we do see. They are:
“…good images of what we really desire…the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
While I’ve already given some details about this excellent message already, it is beyond the scope of this reflection to go in all the main points Lewis makes. Fortunately “The Weight of Glory,” while available in an collection of shorter works in The Weight of Glory, was also included in an issue of a publication called Theology the same year it was preached and a special virtual issue of several pieces by Lewis that they published was posted online earlier this year. So please go and read it there.
Having said that there is one final aspect I wish to highlight: some of the points around the idea of glory that Lewis makes using 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 as the text from where he gets the expression “weight of glory.” Lewis points out that the concept of “glory” is most often used in reference to our material world. “Fame” is a word also associated with this, in the sense of wanting to be famous (in the world). Lewis challenges us to seek “fame with God” in the sense of “approval” or “appreciation by God.”
“Glory, as Christianity teaches me to hope for it, turns out to satisfy my original desire and indeed to reveal an element in that desire which I had not noticed.”
“Glory [means] good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the hear of things.”
Finally, Lewis brings us back to the virtue of Love he mentioned at the beginning by commenting that “it may be possible for each to think too much of his own glory.” Yet, considering the glory of your neighbor is something you can never “think too much of.” Thus, we should be very concerned with what our neighbor’s relationship with God is like and make every effort to improve it.
“The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.”