Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 24, 2020
Today, in Mercy, Jesus defines for us what it means to have eternal life. And the parameters of that definition are so far beyond our limited perceptions — at least mine.
The first time I heard the phrase “eternal life”, I was a three-year-old staring up at the edge of my grandmother’s casket. In those days, family members were “waked” at home for three days. Before Father Connolly came to say a few prayers, I had been lifted up to see Grandmom, icy white in her pretty blue gown, definitely in a sleep I had never seen before.
Later, as the priest intoned blessings over her, I was too little to see over that casket’s edge, so I wondered if she might already have left to find eternal life when he mentioned it. I hoped she could take the blue dress with her because she looked so pretty in it.
Thus began my lifelong quest to understand where Grandmom had gone and to insure this elusive “eternal life” for myself someday. My early catechism lessons presented a “Plant Now – Reap Later” view of eternal life. Remember this from the Baltimore Catechism?
- Why did God make you?
- God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.
( However, I prefer this verion of the query which I heard recently. When asked why God made her, a little girl responded, “Because He thought I’d like it!”)
Still as a result of our early catechesis, many of us consider “eternal life” a future state achieved after death or perhaps not until the Second Coming.
In today’s reading, and throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus begs to differ.
Brendan Byrne, SJ, New Testament scholar, when describing the Prologue of John’s Gospel, says this:
(The central notion of John’s Gospel is this…) The entire life of Jesus Christ will be a playing out, in the field of time, of the divine communion of love that exists between the Father and the Son. Played out in the human sphere, it will be accessible to human beings, so that they, as “children of God”, may be drawn into Jesus’ filial communion of love with the Father and so come to share the divine eternal life.
In other words, as we deepen in our relationship with Christ, we deepen in divine and eternal life. For those whose life is anchored in faith, we rejoice in eternal life now as well as forever.
Raymond E. Brown, premier Johannine scholar, says that we find this “eternal life” in the ordinary stuff of our human life, transformed by the sacramental touch of the Incarnate Christ:
We must stress that the Johannine Jesus is not engaged in cosmetic improvement of the quality of life on earth, offering more abundant water and food, with sharper vision and a longer span of years. From another world come his gifts, even if confusingly they bear the same names that our language gives to what we so eagerly seek on earth: food, light, and life. In reality, however, his gifts go beyond anything we could hope for, satisfying needs we scarcely knew we had and doing so permanently.
May we see every aspect of our lives in this sacred light, convinced in our hearts that God made us “because He thought we’d like it”, and wanting to share eternal life with us right now and forever.
Music: O Love of God, How Strong and True – written by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889),
(sung here by Washington National Cathedral Choir who sang it as well at President Reagan’s funeral in 2004.)
O love of God, how strong and true!
Eternal, and yet ever new;
Uncomprehended and unbought,
Beyond all knowledge and all thought.
O love of God, how deep and great!
Far deeper than man’s deepest hate;
Self-fed, self-kindled like the light,
Changeless, eternal, infinite.
O heavenly love, how precious still,
In days of weariness and ill,
In nights of pain and helplessness,
To heal, to comfort, and to bless!
O wide embracing, wondrous love!
We read thee in the sky above,
We read thee in the earth below,
In seas that swell, and streams that flow.
We read thee best in him who came
To bear for us the cross of shame;
Sent by the Father from on high,
Our life to live, our death to die.
We read thy power to bless and save,
Even in the darkness of the grave;
Still more in resurrection light
We read the fulness of thy might.
O love of God, our shield and stay
Through all the perils of our way!
Eternal love, in thee we rest,
For ever safe, for ever blest.