Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

YEAR A 2023 easter 7

Easter 7, 2023
Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

As Albert Einstein said, “Time is an illusion.”  Perhaps part of what led Einstein to that conclusion was reading the Gospel according to John.  The other three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are called “synoptic” gospels, because they sort of agree.  They have similar stories, with similar wording.  Two of them have the stories about Jesus’ birth, which we mash together into a pageant at Christmas time.  But John’s Gospel has no mention of the birth or the Temptation of Jesus, or the Transfiguration, or the Sermon on the Mount, or the Lord’s Prayer.

The synoptics, most scholars agree, were written together in a sense.  That is, they had common source material, or access to one another’s texts.  Some material is exactly the same in Matthew Mark and Luke, and much of the rest is very similar, with some exceptions.  But John’s gospel brings in all sorts of different stories and teachings, such as the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and what we call the Farewell Discourse, which we’ve been hearing this month.  John has completely different ideas about time too.

The Gospel of John starts at the beginning . . . of everything.  He puts Jesus there at creation: In the beginning was the Word—that is, Jesus.  Though the other Gospels don’t deny that Jesus is eternal, they all start their narrative with Jesus’ being born or being baptized.  Only John takes it back to the start of everything and lays it out: before there was anything, there was Jesus.  Time does not exist for John the way it exists for other writers.  He seems unwilling to be held back by the conventions of a linear progression of time.  For John—like Einstein—time is an illusion.

So, throughout John’s gospel, we can’t really tell where we are in the timeline of things.  In many cases, Jesus is talking about something to his disciples, but then the narrator steps in and explains that they didn’t understand because he had not yet risen from the dead.  It’s like we’re looking back with the author on things that have already happened, but are then tossed right back into the story in the next sentence.  Time moves forward and backward with John.  

And the reason I tell you all this is because I want you to keep in mind that John is not all that interested in giving us an accurate account of the events of Jesus’ life, per se.  John seems much more interested in the point of Jesus’ life.  In his gospel, John does not so much care about the who what where and when; John wants to tell us why.  Which is why John gives us big sweeping statements about Jesus’ coming so that we might have life.  For John, the Kingdom of God gets replaced by life and everlasting life (which we’ll come back to in a bit).

So, as I mentioned earlier, one of the things John’s gospel includes is the so-called Farewell Discourse, which starts right after Jesus washes his disciples’ feet.  We’ve been hearing pieces of it all month.  Jesus is giving explanations about why he does what he does, and what it means for the disciples, and so on.  And then, Jesus lifts his eyes heavenward and begins to pray, which is the beginning of today’s gospel reading.

Now keep in mind, starting with that foot washing, Jesus has been telling the disciples everything he wants them to know.  Everything.  It’s like the World’s Greatest Catechism Class.  And it’s . . . a lot!  But, now he begins to pray.  Straight from what is a long lecture of deep material into a “let’s pray” conclusion.  The disciples’ heads are surely spinning, trying to grasp some very heavy theology, and if they’re anything like us, they are not really going to follow along as Jesus starts praying.  After three chapters of deep concepts, they’re probably ready to just kind of zone out and let Jesus pray.

So Jesus lifts his eyes and starts praying.  And what does Jesus pray for?  His disciples.  He prays for us.  But he starts with some very weighty concepts that only John would write down . . . they are mine and what’s mine is yours as you are me and we are all together.  You know, like The Beatles.  But at the end of those confusing phrases, we get this: “Protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

When Jesus prays to the Father, it is God talking to God.  A united God having a conversation with God.  When Jesus asks God for something, it is not in an effort to change God’s mind.  Jesus is not trying to persuade himself to do something for us, you see?  Jesus prays to the Father, in front of the disciples, so that they will hear him doing so.  It’s like, the point of the prayer is to let the disciples know that these things are already done.  They can trust that they are protected and will be one, as God is one.

And then here’s a classic moment from John that Einstein would appreciate:  Jesus says, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.”  Picture the scene.  He’s right there with the disciples.  He’s not only in the world, he’s in the room, in front of their bowed heads and peeking eyes, saying, “I am no longer in the world.”  It would be awfully strange in any other Gospel, but in John’s World we look for the why, not the who what where and when.  

“I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.”  The disciples are with Jesus when he says this.  If he is no longer in the world, then they are no longer in the world.  And, if they are in the world, then he is in the world.  You see what this means?  There’s kind of a bridge between “in the world” and “not in the world.”  If Jesus is ascended and yet in the room, and the disciples are in that room and yet with Jesus . . . Well, for one thing, it means that Jesus is not bound by the physical limitations of time and space.  And, as Einstein said, “Time is an illusion.”

So remove time from the picture completely and just use statements of what we believe:  Jesus is present with us, but is also no longer in the world.

Jesus is praying to the Father (which is kind of like God thinking aloud) that we would be protected, and that we would be one as God is one.  God is with us, and protecting us, and actually wants what is best for us: That we would have eternal life.

I said we’d come back to eternal life, and here we are.  Jesus says, “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

You notice how very different that is from saying, “And when they die, may they all go to heaven.”  In the other gospels, Matthew Mark and Luke, Jesus often talks about the Kingdom of God, or heaven.  In John’s gospel, Jesus uses life, and eternal life, rather than kingdom and heaven.  Life, and eternal life.  And in this prayer we heard today, Jesus even tells us what eternal life means: “That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

That is eternal life.  Knowing God and knowing Jesus.  

One of the stumbling blocks of John’s Gospel is that he often leaves us with more questions than answers.  And the immediate question from us today is, Well, what does it mean to know God and Jesus?  To be honest, I think the answer can be different for every single person.  But it has hints of being about a relationship, doesn’t it?  To know God and know Jesus implies we spend time with them.  Learn about them.  Talk to them.  Get to know their friends—the ones we call the saints.  Over the course of our lives, we do come to know God and Jesus Christ, and have life, just as Jesus prayed that we might.

To know God, and to know Jesus.  And here’s what I truly love about getting to know someone: The chance to share a meal together.  To break bread together.  Coming to someone’s house to share bread and wine builds bridges that span the meager bounds of time.

And today as we share this meal of the body and blood of Jesus, God comes to you in a way only John could understand.  In the world, and not in the world.  Truly present, yet truly ascended.  And in this meal, we are united as one—just as Jesus and the Father and the Spirit are one—with the saints of every time and every place.  And for us, this is proof that Einstein was indeed right: Time is an illusion.  And for that, I am very grateful indeed.


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