Year A Easter 7: Eternity

The live version of this morning’s sermon included contributions from my wonderful congregation on where they saw God and eternity, which I have not included here.

I couldn’t help thinking about the movie The Matrix as I was reflecting on this gospel. In The Matrix, humanity is living in a kind of dream world, a hallucinatory trance, while reality is hidden from them. Only by knowing the true dimension in which they live can they find and finally win their freedom.

The reality of the movie is rather grim; it doesn’t quite add up to the image of eternal life that we would like to have, but the reason that I was reminded of it was that element of seeing clearly the dimension “in which we live and move and have our being”; having, as it were, “the eyes of our hearts enlightened.”

Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life is the knowledge of what life really is; it is the knowledge of the dimension of God, in which we live, move and have our being.

After Jesus had ascended, the disciples were looking up after him, scanning the clouds that had hidden him from their sight. As they were looking, two men in white robes, otherwise known as angels, gave them the message to move on, to continue to live in the here and the now, trusting that Jesus would return but living in the meantime.

Jesus sent his disciples to seek out eternal life in the here and now; in lives both new but also continuous with the ones that they had known before. Eternal life was not to be found gazing up into the clouds, but in knowing God, as they had come to know God in the person of Jesus Christ, whom God had sent to them.

Eternal life is knowing God in our own lives, here and now; seeing clearly that in which we live and move and have our being; seeing our own lives in

So where is it that you see God?

Julian of Norwich famously found eternity in a hazelnut: in her Showings, she wrote,

And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.

I have seen eternity in the birth of a child –

Today was my son’s birth day;
his tiny hands beginning to unfurl,
a birthmark smeared beneath one arm;
this is the closest we come to perfection;
born between earth and eternity,
the closest we come to God.

So what clouds our vision of God, or of eternity?

Suffering; violence; intractable brokenness. It is true that in this world we encounter pain and grief. But is that incompatible with eternal life?

Jesus suffered so much pain and grief; even death; and yet we know that his life was one lived in close congruence with eternity. So, no, suffering does not cut us off from eternal life, nor does it have to blind us to God.

It is part of our nature to be mortal creatures, prone to death and decay; it is another part of our nature to know that this is not what defines us, but that we are also part of eternity, and destined for glory.

What redeems us out of this suffering is love. The love of Jesus, who suffered death on the cross for us, and came back to his disciples out of love for them. The love and faithfulness of those who spend their lives relieving the suffering of others: the rescuers, the caregivers, the pain whisperers.

When we see God in those people; when we see God in one another, we see how our own lives can become mirrors, or windows, or bridges for others to see their way into a life lived in the knowledge of the love of God, a life lived in continuity with eternity; a life lived with the eyes of the heart opened and clear-sighted, to see the dimension of God in which we live and move and have our being.

It is a high calling, to be a window onto eternity, but it is an indiscriminate one. You don’t have to be the Chosen One of the Matrix to fulfill it; you only have to open your eyes to God and your heart to the world around you, just as you have done today in sharing your visions of eternity with one another.

I am grateful for your witness and your willingness to share your eternal lives.

I often find eternity in the work of the poets, so I’ll leave you this morning with this bright gem from R.S.Thomas, called

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have

to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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