Yr B ~ Easter 7 ~ 1 John 5:9-13
My task today is to take a theological concept that’s probably embedded in most of our memory’s and help us see that the way it’s talked about most of the time is not just unhelpful but actually theologically incorrect and contrary to how Jesus saw the world and led his followers to be. I’ve taken a run at this before but it is a persistent challenge that needs talking about because our culture is so steeped in the error. And yes, I’m calling it an error.
Here we go:
Christianity is not about getting to heaven when you die. It’s about a new way of living now.
Christianity is not a hope for everything being better in the future. It’s about awakening to God’s kingdom that already surrounds us and working to reveal it now.
Christianity is not about what can be someday. It’s about what ought to be now, and what our role is in helping make that happen.
Christianity is not about eternal life. It’s about eternal life!!! (that’ll make more sense in a few minutes – I hope!)
We are at the end of the liturgical season called Easter. Remember, it’s not just a single Sunday, it’s a whole season. Easter as a season is about the core theological truth and necessity of dying and rising. It’s about the end of what was and the beginning of what can be. It’s about turning from a former way and embracing a new way. It’s about old life being renewed and replaced by a new kind of life.
But what does that new life look like? What is its character? What makes the new life better than what was?
In a word, it is eternal.
1 John 5:11 And this is what God has testified: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in Jesus.
This is one of those examples where how you interpret a word or two makes all the difference in the world.
What has God given us? Eternal life!
Ok, so what does that mean? What do you mean when you say the words “eternal life”? We use those words all the time. Everybody knows what eternal life means, right?
Unfortunately, it is far too often used incorrectly. Let’s look at each word.
Eternal does not mean the afterlife. Eternal certainly includes the afterlife – in fact, it literally means age-long, unending, everlasting time – but that means a kind of time that has no beginning either! Not just no ending, but no beginning. It’s a timeless time. To be eternal absolutely does NOT mean that when you die you start living forever in a new way. Well, ok, I guess it does in a way but that’s such a tiny fraction of the concept.
Eternal time stands in direct opposition to ordinary, brief, workaday, temporary, limited, fleeting, counting the days until you retire (or the hours until the sermon’s over) time. We’ve talked before about the difference between the Greek words chronos which is measureable clock time and kairos which is a special holy moment in time. Now this is another kind of time – it’s called aiónios which is about the quality or character of the time. It’s eternal time which has no beginning and no end, and in which every moment is connected to every other, and in which God’s Presence is sensed and savoured more fully because it functions in deeper ways than limited clock time is experienced.
Maybe this will help: in English we say “love” but in Greek they have several different words for different aspects of love. Agape is the spiritual, God-centred love that is far deeper and higher than any of the other aspects of love.
So, aiónios (or eternal) is to time as agape is to love – God-centred, holy, on a whole other plane of experience.
Now let’s add in the other word, because eternal is usually paired with the word life. The Greek word here is zoe which means life as in vitality, animation and not just the biological sense of having breath and a heartbeat – it’s not the opposite of death. Zoe means the life we live in both physical and spiritual ways! So again, it’s about a spiritual quality to life.
Put the two words together and what is eternal life? It’s a quality of existence that involves your whole being and spirit, and has no beginning and no end, and is marked by an all-encompassing sense of being God-centred and God-immersed.
Another way to say all this is to call it the kingdom of God.
What does life lived in the kingdom of God feel like?
What character does life lived in the kingdom of God have?
It has the character and feel of eternal life. Eternal life and the kingdom of God are absolutely synonymous.
1 John 5:11 And this is what God has testified: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in Jesus. read on