Thursday, August 06, 2015

Eternal and endless life

Pentecost 11B, August 9, 2015
John 6:35, 41-5135Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves.44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

I have a little book where I keep my prayer list. Each week, I pray for anyone who is in that little book, and recently, I’ve noticed something. We have a lot of empty places, empty chairs at the dinner table or easy chairs in our living rooms, and yes, empty places in the pew. We have had some significant funerals this year, and many of our hearts are heavy with grief.

So it is only natural that when I read today’s gospel, the words, “Eternal life” resounded in my heart. It is so painful to say goodbye when someone dies, to know that tomorrow I will not be able to call them up to say hi or to drop by for a visit. It is hard to know that the places that are made alive by a person’s presence will be empty- the kitchen where Avis  baked so many cookies, Alfa's living room where so many friends dropped by, Chuck's woodshop, the pianos where Onella will never play again. Earthly life comes to an end, ready or not. For so many of us, we wish that we wouldn’t have to say goodbye ever, that our dear ones could live forever.

We hunger for the bread of eternal life- for us and for our loved ones.

"The Divine Spark" from Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
Those words “eternal life”, though- what exactly do they mean? In the Greek, there are three words that get translated into our word life: bios, psyche, and zoe. Bios is the physical life, the life of the body. Psyche is the soul-life, the life of the soul. But zoe is the spiritual life, the divine life, the God-given and incorruptible life. It’s what the Gnostics might have called the divine spark in each person, which they sought above all things. Jesus is talking about that kind of life here- the divine, spiritual life, and instead of setting a bunch of hoops before the people that they must jump through, he promises that those who simply believe in him will have unending zoe.

And not only will this zoe be unending, in John 10:10, Jesus also declares that he came for abundant zoe. In John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have life abundantly.”

Jesus comes with life abundant and endless, and unlike the Gnostics, to whom John was writing, Jesus gives that endless and abundant life as a gift. It is not earned through secret knowledge or good deeds or following all the rules. It’s given through “belief” in Jesus- and that word for belief is less about mental knowledge but more like leaning on, trusting in, being in relationship with Jesus.

Perhaps because our physical bodies die, the bios, and because it seems that the soul or mind dies with it, the psyche, many of us believe that eternal life happens after this one. But zoe life does not pick up where bios or psyche leave off. It is not a chronological concept. It is endless. It is a circle that begins and ends with Jesus. Because it is given through Jesus, who conquered death, it cannot be snatched away by death. Our bodies may wear out and give up breath and beating heart. Our minds may wander or grow weary or forgetful. Nevertheless, our zoe does not ever change. It is given as a glorious and wondrous gift through Jesus, for all time, now and forever.

Irises by Vincent Van Gogh
Does that change our grief, as we think of the empty places in our homes and our hearts? Maybe. For we know one another through physical bodies, through our minds. What makes you you is a combination of your body, your mind- and when those die, it is sad. For there will never be another person just like you.

But in this gospel text, Jesus reminds us that we are greater than the sum of our parts, and there is something greater that we are part of that does not end, does not change, does not die. Through our endless life in Jesus, our loved ones are still with us. Through Jesus, life does not end. That gives me comfort, even in my grief. Thank you, Jesus, for being our living bread of eternal life. Amen.

Iris Fields in La Conner, by Brad Mitchell

No comments: