Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. (John 17:1-11)
When people are near death, if they know it, and if they can talk about it, they most often speak in profound simplicity about what really matters to them. They speak about what is most important. And this is true for Jesus, who speaks these words, from today’s Gospel lesson, just prior to his being betrayed, then tried, then crucified, which he knew was coming. What are Jesus’ last words about? They’re about glory: that he would be glorified by the God whom he calls “Father,” and that he, in return, would glorify the Father.1 It’s like a light shining into a mirror, which in turn reflects the light back to its source which, in turn, reflects and receives and reflects and receives so that the light’s beginning becomes it end. Jesus says he looking to reclaim his glory, the glory that he had in the Father’s presence before the world existed. Those are Jesus’ last words, last wishes: glory.
During this Eastertide preaching series we have been focusing on the theme, “Towards Larger Life.” The theme is well-chosen, I think, and especially appropriate for this season in the Church’s year. But it is a theme that could just as well be taken to describe the whole of God’s purpose for us and for all who turn to God for help. God’s desire is to bring us into larger life, to join us to that eternal life that the Father shares with the Spirit and the Son – not only in heaven, but now and here, in our daily lived experience. “I came that (you) may have life,” Jesus told his followers, “and have it abundantly!” (John 10:10) Larger life. Eternal life. Abundant life. Nothing less than the God’s own life, abounding within us.
“All the dealings of God with the soul of the believer are in order to bring it into oneness with Himself,” writes the 19th century Quaker, Hannah Whitall Smith. “This Divine union was the glorious purpose in the heart of God for His people before the foundation of the world. It was the mystery hid from ages and generations. It was accomplished in the death of Christ. It has been made known by the Scriptures; and it is realized as an actual experience by many of God’s dear children.”1
For most of my life, growing up in England, the first item on the news every evening was Northern Ireland. The Troubles. Every day, of every month, of every year, more atrocities, and a terrible sense of hopelessness. In the first year of the 1980s after I had been ordained, I spent a succession of summers in Belfast, meeting with youngsters from both the Loyalist and Republican sides, and helping organize joint summer camps for them. There were moments of grace, but more often a deep sense of hopelessness, as the youngsters slowly imbibed their own side’s version of history, attitudes hardened and reconciliation seemed further away than ever.
Yet, by the grace of God and through sacrificial and patient work of so many, 1998 saw the Good Friday agreement and 2006 the power sharing government in Belfast. And most amazingly, this week saw the visit of the Queen to the Irish Republic. There were so many moving moments in that visit, none more so perhaps than when the Queen bowed her head at the memorial in Dublin’s Parnell Square to Irish patriots who died in the long struggle for freedom, a bow which the Financial Times described as “a simple but transcendent gesture designed to heal the wounds of more than seven centuries of English colonial rule.”
We continue on our journey this morning toward larger life. Which is what we’re calling this series of Easter sermons: “Toward Larger Life”. Larger life is what the Good Shepherd is leading us toward: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” He calls us by name and leads us out into larger life; we enter through the gate, which is Christ himself. Though like lost sheep, he finds us and saves us from the thieves of our humanity. With rod and staff he leads us to the green pastures of larger life, abundant life, Resurrection life.
He does this primarily through love. Love of God, love of neighbor, love of one’s own being opens us to that which is larger, that which is beyond the confines of our individual identities. But because love of God and neighbor gets regular coverage in sermons, I’d like to speak to something else, to another way that God leads us toward larger life, toward abundant life, as today’s gospel puts it.
We continue today, our Easter preaching series “Toward Larger Life: Sermons on Resurrection” where the preacher of the day will take the Sunday texts and look at them through the prism of resurrection and see how they are inviting us into the larger life promised to us by Jesus in his resurrection. Last week Kevin looked at resurrection itself to discover the invitation to larger life. Next week Mark will hold before us Jesus the Good Shepherd and lead us into the larger life promised to us by the Shepherd of our souls. Today I want to ask you to come for a walk with me and see how the journey to Emmaus brings us to that larger life.
Not far from Jerusalem, just off the highway that leads to Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean, on the edge of a small village there is an overgrown right of way used by an Israeli utility company to service the power lines that run above it. It’s a curious spot to take a group of pilgrims but I have been there two of three times in the last number of years, because buried in the brush, and under the tangled and matted grass, lies the scattered remains of an old Roman road running from Jerusalem to Joppa on the Mediterranean coast. When I was first there over ten years ago the curbs and paving stones were quite easy to find. Ten years later, after a decade of rain, the road continues to be washed away, but if you look hard enough (and know what you are looking for) you can find bits and pieces of stone that has obviously been dressed and used for some sort of building project.