On Behalf of the Whole…, Easter 7 (A) – 1996
May 19, 1996
On behalf of the whole Congregation of God’s People in this place it is my privilege and joy as your Pastor to welcome today to St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church each and everyone of you who were confirmed and received yesterday at St. Mark’s. As you know we have been praying for you throughout Lent and Eastertide and we rejoice that God has finally brought you to this point and empowered you to stand now beside us at St. Benedict’s and join us in following Jesus and serving him from this new beginning. The Word of God today as at any other day is addressed to all of us but it is fitting on this happy day of your ‘WELCOME’ to address our reflections on that Word more directly to you who mark your Christian journey with those new commitments you have just made to your Lord and ours.
You recall that during these past several weeks now we have been following the life of our Lord as it is presented by the Evangelist John in the Fourth Gospel. Today, the last Sunday of Easter — which in the Christian Calendar links our celebrations of our Lord’s Resurrection and his Ascension to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost — what we have for the Gospel Lesson is a portion of our Lord’s “Last Farewell” to his disciples before he was lifted up on the cross. It may be that those who selected this passage for us were, in part, influenced by the realization, and ascension of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost are not separate events, as they are in St. Luke’s schema, but are all interconnected moments in the one “hour” of our Lord’s return to the Father, the hour of our Lord’s exaltation to Heaven through the cross.
In any case, such is the situation in the scene of our Lord’s Last Farewell in John. For some time now, during and after his Last Supper with the disciples as narrated in John, Chapters 13 to 16, our Lord has been addressing the disciples directly, — teaching them, warning them, comforting them, and providing them with God’s eternal insight into their past, their present and their future as Christian disciples, in their life in God and with God. Then, at the beginning of Chapter 17, our Lord looks up to Heaven and addresses God in prayer… The disciples see Jesus and hear him pray,. And as they listen to the Lord’s Prayer, they realize that they are being lifted up by the Son to the very presence of the Father where they could listen in to the divine conversation and understand the eternal purposes that lie behind their creation and redemption, behind Jesus’ coming down into this world below and his going up again, back to the Father. Now, — through those earliest disciples, and through the witness of innumerable disciples who came after them down the ages, — we, too, see our Lord and hear him pray. And as we ourselves listen to the Lord’s Prayer, we remember that our Lord, this One who is about to pour out his blood for us, was God from the very beginning (John 1.1-18). So he was there, one with God and his love from before the creation of the world. And we remember that he came down to earth only because so much was the love of God for us that he sent down from Heaven his only-begotten Son to show us and make us really know who the one true God is like – no, not just to reveal to us who He is and what He is like but more importantly – he came actually to be our Savior, that is to say, to be the means through which our human life could be taken up in all its lack and poverty to be filled and full-filled by the abundance and wholeness of God’s own boundless life itself! It is true: God became human that we might become divine! Summarizing this life-giving work which the Father has sent him to accomplish on earth, our Lord prays, on the eve of his glorification: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (17:1-3).
“Eternal Life in Jesus Christ whom the one true God has sent.” Yes, not just an indifferent intellectual apprehension of God but, as the Prophets have taught (cf. e.g. Jer. 24.7; 31,33-34; Hosea 4,6; 6.3, 6), knowledge of the one true God in its sense of intimate union and continuing covenental relationship with him and living out his command of love and justice in the wider community (cf. 1 John 1.3), i.e. the actual sharing of God’s own life through His only Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. This for John is the summary of the good news, of the “gospel” of the Kingdom of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ. To share this good news is his utmost concern in writing the Fourth Gospel: “These are written so that you may come to believe (or: continue to believe) that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). But perhaps that famous and beloved verse which many of you will remember (from John 3.16) comes more naturally to your mind as the summary of this “Gospel of Love,” this “Gospel of Life”: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” When our Church in the Philippines became an autonomous branch of the Anglican Communion in 1990 and it became necessary to make a mission statement relevant to the challenges of that third world situation — so much in need of life –, it was from John 10:10 that Scripture was cited, where the Good Shepherd describes his life-giving mission in the world, that same mission to which the Church and all disciples are invited to participate: “I came that they [and you] may have life and have it in all its fullness.”
Life in all its fullness – abundant life! For that purpose and that purpose alone did the loving God create us and redeem us. For that purpose and that purpose alone did the Son of God come into this world – that humankind might have life and have life in all its abundance. And it is for the working our of that same purpose and mission of Jesus that the Gospel is proclaimed and disciples invited to do service that the world might become the Kingdom of God and of Christ. If, because of its difficulty, it has not yet dawned on you who made promises to Jesus yesterday, you were actually making, as we in our time did, your personal commitments to share with our Lord and Savior in this task of giving life to a dying world.
What a stupendous task! What an impossible task, you will say. Yet it is really the only kind of challenge that we would expect from our Lord who dedicated and sacrificed his whole and entire life in order that we and our brethren might live. How comforting and encouraging it is to realize that it is by being in-dwelt by our Lord’s Spirit that are in our little way in such a gigantic task. And how comforting it is to realize that our salvation is not a momentary event but a long journey with Christ. There is much, much more about the mystery of life that we need to learn from our Lord in this continuing journey.
For the meaning of that “abundant life,” “fullness of life,” or “eternal life” is not yet very clear to us. That is precisely why our external walking after Jesus must be based and grounded on and proceeds from the inner union and communion with him. And that is why Christian actions in the world for the enhancement of human life must always return to worship, contemplation and prayer and conversation with Christ and his disciples, lest such actions be sundered from what is in accord with the will of God. As branches of the Vine we need continually to abide in the life-giving Vine in order that we can bear fruit. We need to continually hear the words of Jesus which are for us spirit and life (John 6.63). We need to continually to feed on the Bread of Life so that we can be filled with the substance of Christ and grow more and understand more and more the mind of Him whom we follow as Lord, Him in whose image we have been created, Him, therefore, in whose light we can truly understand ourselves and all our longings and aspirations.
Yet even admitting all that we need to learn, I dare say that, even at this humble point in our Christian experience, we at St. Benedict’s have been already blessed with not a little understanding about certain aspects of that abundant life that God wishes to give in Jesus Christ. What are we all doing here in America? If we truly understand ourselves, it was God’s divine offer of eternal life meeting our natural human aspirations and quests for fuller life that made use leave the old country to come over here, seeking greener pastures. For some of us, especially the older folk, our coming here was not merely a passage in space across thousands of miles of sky and sea, but literally a body-mind-boggling transposition in time across hundreds of years from a comparatively primitive existence to what is now confusingly available to body and spirit at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. No doubt, it has been a divine blessing that much of our bodily and spiritual needs have already been met by what is available to us in this land of plenty. However, as those of you have been in America for a longer period of time can probably better testify, America has not proven to be the land of promise, not “the land of milk and honey,” much less the kingdom of God, that people back home think it is. Once the stomach is full, once there is a comfortable roof over the head, once the novelty of a new place and a new time has worn off, once all the physical deprivations of childhood have been to a large extent satisfied, once human enjoyments and delights on a higher human level have been tasted, still an army of ever-growing and unmet needs rush us from over the horizon to attack us. And it is at that point where Christ comes in with his particular offer of life to save us from being captured by the world, to save us from becoming frustrated, stressed, anxious and despairing slaves of the “American Dream” held by the dominant culture surrounding us. St. Augustine clearly expresses the mind of Christ when he said that our restless quest for fullness of life can never find its fulfillment in the things that God meant only for our use. “Thou made us for Thyself, O God,” Augustine prayed, “and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” What we need to be reminded of now and again and again is that the fullness of human life can only be found in the communion with God and all His children, a communion and fellowship made possible in Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14.)
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