John 17:1-11 – Seventh Sunday of Easter
There is so much to run with from this section because it really connects all of the Gospel of John. Especially after what we’ve heard the last two weeks and with Pentecost next week, there is so much that can be said. So, I’m going to go on a bit of a rollercoaster ride and then finish with a preaching possibility that I think is really important. It’s going to be hard to land this plane, but I’ll try my best.
Here we go…
Eternal life. Two words that carry so much weight.
Eternal life. Two words that encompass so much promise, so much expectation, so much hope for a future that is beyond our gaze, and beyond our comprehension.
In our Christian tradition, these words are used so regularly to describe the time after a loved one has passed or to speak to the promise that Christ gives us about what comes next. We hear things like, “We will have eternal life with God in heaven.” Or “we will have eternal life with Christ.”
These are beautiful sayings that give us so much hope and fill us with comfort.
But so often, we only think about that life with God as in the future, yet to come. In a life different from the one that we are in.
But in Today’s Gospel we are told, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
And this… THIS is eternal life. That they may know You.
What if eternal life is not just the expectation of what comes after this life, but begins far sooner than that? What if eternal life is as simple as us knowing God?
In the Gospel of John, one of the most important themes is that people recognize Jesus as God. Not just as a prophet or the Messiah, but as God.
Just two weeks ago we heard earlier in the Gospel, Jesus saying things like “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him (John 14:7).” and “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’ (John 14:9)?”
To know Jesus is to know God.
During this year lectionary year (Year A), we have heard so many incredible stories in the Gospel of John that have shown us the love of God towards humanity and where God is entering into the lives of others. We have gotten to experience those stories and hear and see who Jesus is in this world.
We heard the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. Jesus connects with her, knows her life and her story, and calls her into relationship with God and her life changes from that moment forward.
We heard the story of Jesus and the Man who had been born blind. Jesus approaches the man with love, spreads mud over his eyes and gives him sight for the first time in his life. With these eyes, the man not only sees the miracle worker, but sees God face to face, and his life is forever changed.
We heard the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus weeps over the pain that Mary and Martha are feeling. He is in pain because those that he loves are in pain and he calls Lazarus to come out of the tomb so that this family could be restored to life and all of them could know new life in this restored community.
On Easter, we heard how Mary Magdalene was searching for his body and she finds him alive, changing the trajectory of death and life forever.
Each of these stories that we hear in the Gospel of John are intimate, powerful and show us how much Jesus wants to be in relationship with the people around him. And in being in relationship with them, their “lives” are forever changed. Right in that moment, they are changed.
This Week’s Context
This prayer that we hear from Jesus today, is at the very end of the Last Supper. It is right before he will be arrested, found guilty, crucified, and then rise again.
The world in an instant is about to change for these disciples who are overhearing this prayer.
These disciples hear the end of this prayer:
“And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
In an instant the world as they know it is changing.
And when all is said and done, they will go back to living their lives. But it’s not business as usual, and it’s certainly not “normal” – instead, they are going back to something that has been changed forever.
It is a world in which they have come to know and have seen the presence of God, but now they are the ones who are charged with making God visible to others, as Jesus did so for them.
Now, they are charged with witnessing to story of Jesus Christ and making God known to all the world. Because this is eternal life, that all may know God.
As Karoline Lewis writes,
“It is, perhaps, one of the most relevant and truthful definitions of what Pentecost is supposed to be as disciples of Christ. Jesus is no longer in the world. The incarnation is over. Jesus has been resurrected. He ascended to the Father from whence he came (1:1). But we are still in the world, Jesus’ works are now in our hands (14:12), and Jesus is counting on us to be his presence in the wake of his absence (21:15-17). What if we imagined that the resurrection of Jesus was just the beginning and not the conclusion of the Gospel? That the promises of the resurrection are, in part, ours to fulfill? How would a life of discipleship, of witness, of love, between Pentecost and Advent, be different were we to trust that Jesus meant what he said in 14:12, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” We are in the world now, the world that God loves (3:16).”
If you think about the last two weeks and Jesus’ promise of the Spirit of God dwelling within us, then this becomes all the more important and leads us to the understanding of Eternal Life.
The biggest leap that John makes (but the most critically important theological point) is ‘Knowing God is eternal life.’
If God is in us, then we make God known by living out the ministry among others.
If God is in others, then we make God known by being in relationship with others.
If God is in all of us, then we are all connected to life with God.
If we are all connected to life with God, then our life is the life of God.
If we share life with God, then not even death can separate us from the love of God and life with God. Eternal life.
Each time we remember our connection with God within ourselves and within our neighbors, we are awakened to eternal life. And like every character mentioned above, when we come to see God and know Jesus, then our lives will be changed. We will see new avenues and trajectories. New possibilities for life in abundance.
Now, these are epiphany moments. Moments of revelation that we may lose sight of over time. But each time we encounter God in our midst, our lives are changed. We find new life right here and now. And through this life as disciples, as we form relationships, we form eternal bonds.
It’s heady and maybe it doesn’t mean all that much for folks who are just trying to figure out what their next day of work will look like in the morning.
But as our minds wake up to see God in our midst and to see our lives as inextricably connected to God and our neighbor, I think there is a world of possibility to dream.
This is our landscape to dream. To try bold and creative possibilities, stretching ourselves to make God known in new ways that reach farther than we could possibly imagine.
Life is all around us. God is all around us. And we can make that known, even and perhaps especially in the midst of the changing landscape of our world. How are you being called to make Christ known to a world that is rapidly changing?
Now is the time to dream. Now is the time to explore new possibilities for our relationships with God and neighbor. Eternal life is here and now – when we know Christ and make Christ known.
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