Abbey Eucharist Easter 7. 2008

4 May 2008 at :00 am

I have had to face the death of a number of people quite close to me recently and a conversation I had with a friend, whom I hope is not near his death (!), led me to reflect a bit more on this subject, which we tend to avoid, as I looked at today’s Gospel reading. My friend is only 62 but he said that he was having to face the fact that he would not achieve some of the things in his life that he thought he would achieve. That led on, as you might imagine, into a significant conversation.

Today’s reading from St John’s Gospel is also a significant conversation, which I am sure we are meant to listen in to, and is also a profound reflection on Jesus’ life as he faces his own immanent death. When the ageing Maurice Chevalier was asked how he felt about old age he said, “I prefer it to the alternative.” Woody Allen once said, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” But in Jesus’ prayer, his conversation with the Father, we find no desperation or pleading but rather a deepening of the relationship between Father and Son and a reflection on their shared mission. We see that in the opening words of this passage: “after Jesus had spoken these words (to his disciples), he looked up to heaven and said...” This metaphor is meant to make us aware that Jesus’ consciousness is focussed on the divine presence, a focus that intensifies during Jesus’ prayer.

As we think of this, we find an inspirational vision in the writings of St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) who said,

“All shall be Amen and Alleluia.
We shall rest and we shall see, We shall see and we shall know,
We shall know, and we shall love, We shall love and we shall praise.
Behold our end which is no end.

Rest… See…love…praise - this is the pattern for the Church, a community where we can rest, see, love and praise.

Heaven is being taken into God’s future. Describing this, one of the great Anglican theologians of recent times, Austin Farrar, said, “The end of man is endless Godhead endlessly possessed”, but that end flows back in glory on our mortal days, and gives hope and meaning to whatever Christians do for love of God or love of one another. Expressing this in other words, the 20th Century monk Thomas Merton said, “Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire." Now, of course we cannot in this life wholly possess the end that we pursue but Jesus’ prayer shows us how we can shape our lives by the end that we long for.

But when we hear that very calm and confident passage where Jesus is so sure that he has accomplished the mission his Father intended for him, we know how much it is at odds with our own lives with our arbitrary, fretful, capricious experiences of death and dying. But here we listen to Jesus’ confident worlds: I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” I suspect that most of our prayers have a different sense – opportunities missed, sorrow for wrongdoing, and trepidation in the face of darkness. For on one level there is no perfect death and there is no right time. I remember as a young curate being bemused by the comment of a mourner - “Why did she have to die now?” “Well”, I thought, “she was 86!” But perhaps I understand the question now.

Jesus’ prayer encourages us to look at our lives in the context of God’s love for us and all his people, and our calling to release divine love into the world. That’s why in the confusion of the death of a child, for instance, we can get glimpses of their perfect life, for they have, in their short lives, perhaps released God’s love. And if we can grasp some of that love and accept it, we can see something of the love of God even in our horror and anguish at such a tragedy.

Jesus says: “So they may be one as we are one”. Every person is a child of God who is called to indwell mutually with the Father and reveal the Father’s name. And the adventures of life are opportunities for us to en-flesh, live out, demonstrate, this spiritual identity. For each of us there will be different opportunities. It may be that you are called to release God’s love in a difficult relationship at work; it may be that you are called to release God’s love in your suffering; whilst for others it may be that their dying is where they are called by God to release His love. Jesus’ prayer not only articulates his relationship with the Father where we hear:-4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” – but also his relationship with his “friends” where we hear - “10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.” And his prayer also looks at the whole of life from a consistent, spiritual perspective, a perspective that perhaps we find it hard to hold amid the noise and busyness of our 21st Century lives. But we are reminded today of the importance of this perspective, that each of us is on a mission of love, meant to stir love in others.

So, let’s remind ourselves of Farrar & Merton’s words: “The end of (hu)mans is endless Godhead endlessly possessed”, and “Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.” So as Baptised Christians endless Godhead endlessly possessed flows back into our lives now, as whatever we do or are furnishes material to the hands which out of perishing stuff create eternal joy. The question is, do we really believe Jesus’ promise to his disciples before his a Ascension to the Father which we heard in the reading from Acts this morning, as applying to us, “... you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you: and you will be my witnesses... to the ends of the earth.”? “What, me? Poor, pathetic, little old me?” yes, YOU are invited by our loving Heavenly Father to release His love – to live already with one foot in heaven.

“All shall be Amen and Alleluia.
We shall rest and we shall see, We shall see and we shall know,
We shall know, and we shall love, We shall love and we shall praise.
Behold our end which is no end.”

The perspective of Heaven reminds us of the infinite worth of all human beings – we are candidates for Heaven and members of the ordering of God’s world.

Eternal life, then, is not something wholly future but exists in anticipation now, but to be wholly fulfilled at the eschaton, the End, when all things shall be brought to completion.

The words Amen and Alleluia mean “Yes, truly” and “Praise God” respectively. May we answer to my friend, wondering about his life:

All shall be Amen and Alleluia!

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