Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As we near the end of the Easter season and approach the Ascension and then Pentecost, it’s good to think about the Easter life: The eternal life that Jesus promised that God’s children will have in Him. Even though today’s Gospel lesson takes place at the Last Supper, we must hear Jesus’ words as His apostles and the early Church came to understand them—not as frightened and confused disciples on the night of His betrayal, but through the filter of Good Friday and Easter. What Jesus promises to them in the upper room, He delivers through His death and resurrection.
Throughout his gospel account, St. John the Evangelist distinguishes between temporal, biological life (the Greek word “bios”… bee΄-oss) and eternal life (the Greek “zoe”… zō΄-ay). All of God’s creatures share biological life so long as we breathe on this earth. Yet eventually, until Jesus returns again, all creatures, great and small, finally draw their last breath and return to the elements of God’s creation.
Just read the obituaries in any newspaper or online service some time. You’ll quickly realize that biological death can happen at any time to any person, regardless of age. The young, in spite of their current health and vigor, should never ignore or downplay the reality of death just because it seems a remote possibility at the moment. Nor ought anyone of any age or health delude themselves into thinking that only the older and very old die. What was observed about medieval life can sometimes remain true even in our advanced societies: Biological life can still be nasty, brutish, and short.
If God so blesses us, however, biological life can also be very sweet and end far too soon for our liking. But that is not the only life available to us. Those that become God’s children through their baptism into the Son of God, into Jesus’ death and resurrection, are given eternal life. It’s important to constantly remember that while the physical rite of receiving the sacrament of Holy Baptism through water and the Word takes place at a particular time, as a practical and spiritual reality, our baptism is not to be considered a one-time thing. It is an ongoing event, as in contrition and repentance and restoration, we are dying and rising with Jesus daily. We drown our Old Adams and Eves, and emerge and arise to new life.
You could perhaps liken the difference between biological life and eternal life to the difference between breathing poisoned air and having an oxygen mask. Think of a person trapped in a small room that’s filling with carbon monoxide, or trapped underwater with only a small and rapidly decreasing pocket of air.
If all that we have is biological life, we know for certain the end is near. Like all persons trapped in deadly situations like that, we know, at least intellectually, that we are going to die.
But with the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ, we not only have the assurance of rescue from these mortal bodies and this dying world, we also have the promise that life with God goes on forever. Because Jesus died and rose again, because He is risen from the dead and lives even now, those that die and rise daily with Him in the washing of Holy Baptism will also live!
A typical misunderstanding among immature Christians and inquirers into the faith is that the Easter life—eternal life—is something that only begins after we die. That’s quite wrong, and we need to be reminded ourselves—and to tell everyone—the blessed truth. In this Gospel text, Jesus is indicating that Easter life overlaps with biological life.
The eternal kingdom of God is present in the lives of God’s people. The Holy Spirit is abiding in the Church and in the world. The real challenge for God’s people is to live as Easter people in a dying world, and not to become either blasé or discouraged. It’s hard to live as Holy-Spirit-filled people in a world that is animated by all manner of unholy spirits. But Easter people have another life. We don’t have to try to wheeze our way through a world poisoned by the breath of death. There is a better way to live.
Notice that Jesus insists that there are marks of the Easter life. Those that love Jesus keep His commandments. They listen to His voice. They learn from Him and follow Him.
Jesus isn’t suggesting that the discipled life is simply about remembering to do what Jesus once did. The Christian life is not like being part of an historical re-enactment in which we dress up in clothes from ages past and pretend that we were there. Nor do we maintain the tradition of liturgical worship in order to remain trapped in some sort of cultural bubble. It can certainly become that, if we forget what lies underneath it all.
For example, much as I like hearing that people enjoy the visual and auditory aesthetics of worship here at St. Paul, I’d much rather they remember that it’s the connections which the liturgy and aesthetics form with Christ and with believers of every age, and the gifts that God conveys to us through these things that are infinitely more important.
Otherwise, like so much of the culture around us and even too much of the Christian Church, the activities become focused merely on having an emotional experience that ends with breathless appreciation for the performers when the show is over, and not for the realities that have taken place within and beneath the actions. If worship is simply about the show, it’s deadly stuff—not an aroma of our sacrifice of praise that is pleasing to the Lord, but rather a stench of our pride that fills God’s nostrils!
Likewise, if we disconnect our worship as Easter people from our daily biological lives in the world outside, we are as broken as everyone else. If we hear beautiful music and eloquent words that please us, but we fail to receive God’s Word and Sacrament to uplift and strengthen us with the assurance of forgiveness and our possession of the Easter life, it is a dead exercise.
Jesus says that He won’t leave His disciples orphaned. Disciples are not left alone with their memories of Jesus. Eternal life—the Easter life—is on-going life with God. It is getting in on the eternal life and eternal love that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share. This is what Jesus is promising His disciples at the Last Supper. The Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, will be with them to keep them connected to the divine life and love that they have only barely begun to experience in and through their relationship with Jesus.
On account of Jesus’ promises, the disciples need not fear that, when they can no longer see Him with their eyes, that they have been separated from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus promises the Spirit of God will be for them another Helper and Advocate with the Father—another defense attorney with the Father. One who will plead on their behalf, that their sins—and ours—might not be counted against us.
This brings us back to the Easter life that comes through baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. When one is born again of water and the Spirit, there is new birth into a different life. We now have a life that goes on forever with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This Easter life is sheer unmerited gift to us, a gracious, lavish showering of infinite love poured out by God upon us. The Father in love has sent the Son to become human with us. To die for us on the cross. To die for our sins to rescue us from this dying world—a world that would seduce us with all the devil’s empty promises.
There is, of course, an eventual disconnect—a radical disconnect, even—between biological life and eternal life. That’s because there is nothing in this world or of this world that can give us eternal life. Only God can give it to us, by His grace, through our baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The Easter life that God wants us to have looks very different from mere biological life! If our eyes are fixed on life in this world, we are living on borrowed time. The poisonous gas is getting thicker; the pocket of air running out.
As I was saying before, it is possible to treat Christian worship as a mere historical reenactment. In so doing, it would be like a leper or blind person pushing Jesus away and rejecting the healing Jesus offered. Who could be satisfied to remain in a life like that, when God offered so much more? Who wouldn’t want to get better? Those that simply dabble in worship, or confess to being “spiritual but not religious,” think that they have all they really want, all they really need!
The problem is that dying people—and that includes all of us—do not have what they truly need, and many do not know any better. All that many in this world have is biological life and not eternal life. But Jesus says you can tell the difference by whether or not people live in His love.
Our Savior will go on to say in John 15 that living in His love means to stay connected to Him as branches are to a vine. He will go on to say that no one has greater love than to give his life away for his friends. He will go on to say that we should love one another as He loves us. And then Jesus goes on, in John 18 and 19, to show us what it means.
There, He dies for this broken world, that we might have real life—Easter life—life with God that goes on forever. He shows us that biological death is not the worst thing that can happen. In short, we have to die to ourselves and finally die physically to know the fullness of God’s life and God’s love.
At the risk of sounding like Jeff Foxworthy, I need to say this today. If all you come to worship for is to kind of pay your respects to God, you might be an unbeliever. If you really don’t want the Holy Spirit to change your life because you think you’re living just the way you ought to, you might be condemned.
If your eyes and your heart are so set upon this biological life that there is no room for God, you might find that at life’s end, God doesn’t have a room—much less a mansion—prepared for you.
If you love God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—strive to keep God’s commandments. Pray daily. Worship weekly. Read and study God’s Word. Serve within and beyond this congregation. Encourage spiritual growth in yourself and others. Give generously of God’s time, talents, and resources entrusted to your stewardship. Not because these things save us, but because we are already saved and called to live an Easter life.
You, like many others, might be laboring under the impression that the Easter life is a component—a part—of your biological life. But you’d be quite wrong. For you, dear believers, this biological life is a tiny fragment of your Easter life.
In fact, God chose you to receive faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior, and to receive all the blessings that go along with it—forgiveness, salvation, and eternity with Him—before He laid the foundations of this world. And, living as His child, your Easter life will continue eternally long after your brief, fleeting biological life has ceased. Then you will receive a new, glorified body, and your Easter life will be in God’s fullness.
Yes, there is biological life, and we all know what that looks like. It can be in turns difficult and easy, sparse or lavish, painful or healthy. But remember: Whoever dies with the most toys… dies and leaves them to the next generation!
More importantly, though, for us there is eternal life—Easter life—life with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that goes on forever. In this world, that life looks like the life that Jesus lived for us to see—giving your life away in humble service to others through God’s good and gracious will.
In the name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our hosts at the eternal banquet celebrating our Easter life, Amen.