Or, Eternity: the Sunday Update! Parts of this morning’s sermon for St Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Elyria, are already covered in the previous post (TGIF and Eternity), so I won’t repeat those parts here, but here’s where eternity ended up (so to speak):
Eternal life is not what happens to us after we die. Or at least, it’s not only what happens after we die. Eternity is not what comes next; eternity has no future, no next thing. Eternity isn’t where we lived before we were born. It has no before, no beginning. Eternity is not the length of this sermon; it has no length, no duration, no end. …
… Eternal life will I believe be with us beyond death, but eternity doesn’t wait for death to get started. Eternal life is life that beats within us now, that is as close as the divine spark that galvanizes us, that lives, dies and rises with us. It is the life within us that gazes upon the timeless face of God. It is the life that God shares with us.
Jesus showed us eternity by living beyond his mortal life – the usual birth, living, death – through resurrection and ascension; but Jesus’ eternal life didn’t begin at his resurrection, or at his ascension. Jesus was there in the beginning, with God; he was God. But Jesus’ Ascension, which we celebrated this past week, and which we sing about in today’s hymns – Jesus’ Ascension showed us a picture of what it is like for us to have eternal life with him. Jesus ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God.
Of course, going up, sitting, God’s right hand – they’re images that stir up our imaginations. We don’t expect to find heaven hiding above a cloud, or Jesus bodily sitting there, and who could imagine God’s hands except Michelangelo?
But the picture that Jesus’ Ascension painted told us that we, God’s children to whom he came, we live with him at the right hand of God. That is what it means to have eternal life, according to the Ascension story. It is to live at the right hand of God. That is why Jesus prays for his disciples who live in the world but not in the world – who live in Galilee, or Elyria, and at the right hand of God.
John the letter-writer says, “I write these things to you, … so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Because he knows that we who live with Jesus at the right hand of God sometimes forget where we live. We forget that we live with God, because sometimes it doesn’t feel like it; when we’re lonely, or in pain, or even in joy. So John reminds us: “You have eternal life.”
What a riot! What could you do, living at the right hand of God? What couldn’t you do? God’s right-hand men and women, with God at your side, what forgiveness could you offer, what reconciliation could be wrought, even if you yourself are the one you need to forgive? What courage could you borrow to stand up for your neighbour, the ones we are called to love, to speak out against injustice and unrighteousness? We could be bold, with God at our side. What testimony could we give, what joy could we share? What storms of grief could we weather, knowing that God is right there beside us?
It doesn’t necessarily make life easy, living at the right hand of God. God doesn’t live our lives for us: we still have to do that ourselves; make our own decisions, our own mistakes, fall in love for ourselves, grieve for our loved ones, speak words of truth to power. God doesn’t live our lives for us. But God lives with us, sharing the eternal life which belongs to God alone. God lets us lean on God, the strong rock and redeemer, who is eternally by our side, at whose right hand, with Christ, and through Christ, we live. God, the eternal one, whose life, by God’s own grace, we share.
What will you do, reaching out from God’s right hand? How will you share the eternal life with which you have been gifted? What glory can we expect to shine forth from you?
After all, I’m telling you these things so that you may know that you have, here and now, that life which belongs to God alone; that through the love of God and the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, you are God’s right hand women and men; and your eternal life has already begun. Amen.