John 20. 19-31
EternalLife is being loved and loving!
“The talk they had with the Shining Ones was about the glory of the place; who told them that the beauty and glory of it was inexpressible. There, said they, is the Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. You are going now, said they, to the paradise of God, wherein you shall see the tree of life, and eat of the never-fading fruits thereof; and when you come there, you shall have white robes given you, and your walk and talk shall be every day with the King, even all the days of eternity ….” Of course, that’s only the beginning of the description of what awaits every true believer.
Out of the City of Destruction. Through the Valley of Humiliation. Across the Plain Ease. Up Hill Difficulty. And finally, into the Celestial City. That’s the journey taken in Pilgrim’s Progress. Actually, the whole title is longer than that! The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come ! It’s a book written in England nearly three-and-a-half centuries ago. By a Puritan. John Bunyan. And it’s nurtured the hopes and dreams of generations of Christians across the world. “The talk they had with the Shining Ones was about the glory of the place … about the beauty and the glory ….” It’s the happy ending for which we’re all yearning! The every-after over every rainbow! The emerald city at the end of every yellow-brick road!
And then …
And then …
And then …
There’s today’s reading from the gospel according to John. Chapter twenty, verses nineteen to twenty-three! It’s what we read every year, on this Sunday. It’s evening, that first Easter. The disciples huddle together – rather, cower– together, behind locked doors. Maybe in the same room Jesus had washed their feet, just three nights before. This night, they’re afraid. Jesus comes, stands among them, and says, “Peace!” But more important than what he says is what he doesn’t say. Because there’s not one word about a happy ending! Not one syllable about a celestial city! Nothing about its beauty! Nothing about its glory! For all intents and purposes, heaven doesn’t exist! Instead, he says, “Peace!” Two times he says it! And after showing them his wounds … Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you!”
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you!”
There’s one more verse about the Spirit. A few more words about forgiving, not forgiving. But that’s it! That’s all! The first time after the resurrection, Jesus comes to his disciples and that’s all John tells us! Five verses! A hundred and twenty-one words! But they reveal a lot. About Jesus! About believing! There’s no then-and-there, in the passage. There’s only here and there’s only now! Jesus doesn’t talk about heaven! Doesn’t, even, mention it! He doesn’t talk about Paradise Lost or Paradise Regained! Both of which were, also, written by a Puritan! John Milton! Bunyan’s contemporary!
No, when Jesus comes and stands among his disciples and speaks, he has only one purpose in mind … To send them out into the world, like god sent him! To send them out to do the very things he had done! To send them out to love! Just! Like! Him! That’s the whole reason for having church, in the first place! The whole reason for being church, at all! It’s to love! To love just like Jesus! To love just like god! Getting up from the table! Taking off our outer robe! Tying a towel around ourselves! And falling down on our knees and washing feet!
Unfortunately, we get so carried away … with all that’s up high and far away … with the supernatural … the otherworldly … with what supposedly happens after death … that we forget why we’re here! We forget our mission! Our reason for being! We forget the reason why Christ came! For John, faith is such a down-to-earth thing! Authentic! Sincere! Being saved – according to John – doesn’t mean living-forever! Being saved doesn’t mean going-to-heaven! It means loving! Loving JUST LIKE JESUS! “I came,” he says, “not so you can get through the pearly gates! Not so you can get past St. Peter! I came so you might have life! That you might have life and lots of it!” And for Jesus – especially for John’s Jesus – life is just another word for love!
EternalLife, he calls it! In fact, he’s the only gospel-writer who uses that phrase! EternalLife! Eternal, not everlasting! There’s a difference! EverlastingLife is a quantity. You can count it. You can weigh it. You can measure it. EternalLife is a quality! It’s a why! It’s a meaning! EternalLife is what happens when you realize how much god loves! How much god SO loves! EternalLife is what happens when Jesus shows up behind locked doors! EternalLife is what happens when Jesus says, “Peace!” When he shows his hands and his side and says, “Now it’s your turn!” God loves because that’s what god does! And eternalLife is us doing the same thing! Loving not because we have to! Loving, not even, because we want to! It’s loving, simply, because that’s the way it works! Like a grain of wheat falling into the earth. It reacts, responds, to sunlight and rain!
EternalLife just happens … whenever … wherever … Jesus is! It happens in the night in which he was betrayed! It happens on a cross and in the grave! It happens when it’s evening, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples have met were locked for fear! Life is always where love is! Not somewhere up ahead … around the next turn … over the next hill … It’s wherever Jesus is! And the beauty? The glory? It’s the scars! No pearly gates. No streets of gold. But the hands and the side of Christ! That’s what we believe in! That’s what we stake our life on! What’s the quote? “Love’s not happiness. Love’s a willingness to sacrifice!” A willingness and an ability to suffer! Whenever that happens … wherever that happens … that’s life! That’s eternalLife!
As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, I have to admit I don’t know a lot about what happens when we die. Where we go. What we become. And contrary to popular opinion, the bible doesn’t give us much help. What it does tell us is that life matters! This life’s important! It’s full of meaning! And we see it in the blood … and the sweat … and the tears … we shed for others! My friends, the proof isn’t in the pudding. It’s in Jesus’s hands, in Jesus’ side. And it’s in our hands and side, as well!