We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, Easter 7, Year B – “Eternal Life”

“The Sacerdotal Prayer” – Eugène Burnand (1850-1921)

Today is Mothers’ Day.  Mother’s Day is not a religious holiday, but like Fathers’ Day, coming up in June, we tend to acknowledge these two holidays in church because they have a lot to say about love. My mother, age 96, still lives in the house where I grew up.  I talk with her every day by phone, and I am filled with gratitude that I still have the joy and privilege of going home and finding my mother, full of love, waiting with open arms. 

But going home isn’t quite the same as it used to be since my father died in 2021.  I still long for my father’s open arms—he gave the best hugs in the world.  But since his death, I’ve had to get used to my father’s physical absence.  Most of us gathered today have experienced in one way or another the pain that death brings, that physical separation from someone we have loved and who has loved us in this lifetime. 

Part of our Christian life is to believe that our lives extend beyond our physical deaths, and that “through the grave and gate of death we pass with Christ to our joyful resurrection,” as one of the prayers for burial states in The Book of Common Prayer.  And this prayer also says something about our beliefs in the life to come, that we have in this life “the comfort of a reasonable and holy hope, a joyful expectation of eternal life with those we love.” We believe that even death cannot separate us from those we love. 

We tend to think of eternal life starting after we’ve died.  But we already have it! 

In today’s reading from the 1st Letter of John, the writer says, “Here’s the proof!  God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life.” 

Listen to that sentence again and pay attention to the verb tenses.  “God gave us eternal life.”  God has already given us eternal life!

“And this life is in his Son.”  “IS in his Son.”  “Whoever HAS the Son has life.”  These two statements are in the present, not the future tense.  

We don’t have to wait for eternal life.  Eternal life begins here and now when we live our lives in Jesus. 

In so many ways, we already live in heaven.

When we come to know God as Jesus has made God known to us, when we abide in God as God abides in us, when we live with gratitude and with joy within God’s love, when we  honor the life that God has given to each of us,  loving one another as God has loved us, having others who love us with God’s own compassionate and merciful love, when we experience the ongoing love of those who have gone before us, we are already living in eternity.   When we live on this earth and rejoice in the beauty of God’s creation around us, with awareness of and thankfulness for the intricacies of creation, when we come to appreciate our dependence on and interconnectedness with all living things, when we are blessed and when we can be blessings—–

we don’t have to wait for eternal life to begin when time is done.  We have entered it already, for eternal life is the gift that Jesus has already given to us and offers to us over and over again when we forget that even the mundane moments of our lives contain hints of eternity, or when the attractions of sin and evil become so bright that our memories of eternity grow dim.   

In today’s gospel, as his time on earth draws to a close, Jesus prays to God, because Jesus knows that we will inevitably forget this gift of eternal life, that the attractions of this world wait mislead us, to lie to us, and to swallow us up and steal our lives from us. And so before he leaves this world and his disciples, Jesus prays.  This prayer is known as the High Priestly Prayer.  John records it in his gospel in Chapter 17.     

Just a brief explanation here—we hear parts of this prayer  each year on this seventh Sunday of Easter. Last year, we heard the beginning of the prayer as Jesus prays for himself.   This year, the part we hear is the part of the prayer where Jesus prays for the disciples, and next year is the part where Jesus prays for us.  So it takes three years to hear the whole prayer in worship.  Today, I’d like to talk about the whole prayer as we consider eternal life now.  I’m going to be quoting from The Message, Eugene’s masterful paraphrase of the Bible. 

This prayer is one of those unforgettable moments of scripture—Jesus in deep conversation with God, a prayer so intimate that we might feel like we’re eavesdropping, that maybe we should tiptoe away and leave Jesus to share this time with God alone, without us listening in.

But Jesus wants us to remember that he is our way, our truth and our life, not only now, but for all eternity, and to remember that to know him is to begin to live in eternal life now, not later.  So we are supposed to overhear this prayer. 

In the first five verses of the prayer, Jesus prays for himself.  What he asks for himself is for our benefit. 

“Father, it’s time. I’ve finished my work here.  (Jesus knows that it’s time for his death, resurrection, and ascension) Now it’s time for people to see my bright splendor, the splendor I had in your presence before there was even a world.  When people see my splendor, they will see WHO YOU ARE in all your glory.” 

And this is the part that applies to our eternal life starting right now.  Jesus says to God, “You put me in charge of everything human so that I could give real and eternal life to everyone in my care.

And this is the real and eternal life:  that they know you, the one and only true God, and that they may know me.” 

So to know God is to already have eternal life.  And we know who God is by knowing Jesus in all his fullness. 

In the second part of the prayer, today’s passage, Jesus prays for the disciples. 

He prays that God will sanctify his disciples, that is to keep them set apart for the special purpose of being people of love in the world, so that through them, other people will be able to see who God is.  Jesus sets them apart to be the people who are already living in eternity. 

He prays for their unity. 

Jesus prays, “For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world;
They’ll continue in the world while I return to you.  Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life that you conferred as a gift through me, (this is the eternal life that I’m talking about in this sermon) so they can be one heart and mind as we are one heart and mind.”

He prays for their joy.  “Now I’m returning to you, Jesus prays.  “I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing so my people can experience my joy completed in them.”

When we live in eternity with God now, we can’t help but experience the very joy that Jesus knew, for Jesus was one with God.  Jesus prays that this joy of his will be completed in us, the joy of abiding in him, joy beyond anything that we can experience by just living in this world. 

And Jesus prays for their protection.  “I’m not asking that you take them out of the world, but that you guard them from the Evil One.
They are no more defined by the world than I am defined by the world.”  When we know that God protects us with God’s perfect love, then we can live fearless lives. 

Then in the last part of the prayer, which you’ll hear again next year on this Sunday, Jesus prays for us.  Jesus prays for our unity, the same unity that Jesus shares with God, so that we can be witnesses in the world to God’s glory. 

Next Sunday on the church calendar is the day of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, when God’s glory becomes visible in the disciples, when God issues the invitation to eternal life to all who will listen, when the disciples experience the joy of God as others come to believe, “YES!  Eternal life is for me, here and now, because I have met Jesus the Son of God and I want to follow him.”

And so the world goes on, with its glittering distractions, always beckoning to us and trying to suck us in.   The world goes on, and we suffer the inevitable hardships that the Evil One brings.  The indignities of aging are inevitable. And eventually, we die and return to dust. 

As the disciples of Jesus in this world, we know that we are living only at the beginning of our eternal lives. We aren’t quite home yet.   That deep longing that we can’t help but feel for home, the longing that we have for an end to all separations, will only be complete on that holy day when we join the communion of saints and enter the unity of everlasting love and meet God face to face.

Until then, may we journey on through this life and in this world, united in joy, and may God’s everlasting love for us pour out through us into the world, because we know Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life.  And we give thanks for the love that Jesus has for each one of us, from before time, now, and forever.