June 2, 2019
I spoke a few weeks ago about how we use the lectionary to chose our bible readings. The lectionary cycle runs over three years. One gospel for each year...except, you may note, there are four gospels. The first three gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels because they agree quite closely on most of the life of Jesus. The gospel of John is different. His is a much more spiritual gospel, concerned more with the message of Jesus than with the actual events in the life of Jesus. His miracle accounts are about the meaning more than the miracle. Many of his gospel accounts are out of order, if you will. But it is because he is not as concerned with the historicity as with the spirituality.
So maybe that prayer isn't exactly what we think it is. Jesus has what seems to me to be a bit of a riddle in it; the unity he prays for is perhaps not exactly what we expected at first flush. We have to listen carefully to understand. “ As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us... I in them and you in me...so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." You in me, me in you, they in us, us in them... kind of a riddle... or an enigma. The point is some kind of unity, but not the type of unity where everyone thinks the same way, looks the same, acts the same, speaks the same or even believes the same. But a unity, as Jesus says in verse 21 and again in 23, “ so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Our unity is to be for God's glory. In fact, the root and heart of unity is the unity we have with God in Christ.
Theologian Raymond Brown writes about this unity, “The key to unity lives in divine power... from Father to Son to the believers.” I preached at the Bethany chapel on Thursday using John's gospel where Jesus is comparing the believers to grape vines. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Abide in me as I abide in you. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We need to be connected to the vine, to Jesus. That is where true unity begins. It is not first about how we get along in community, it is not about all the different denominations, it is about how we each are joined to Jesus. It starts with our relationship with Jesus, but it doesn't end there. Brown again, “Unity involves community.” You probably notice that unity is literally a part of community. And we can take this word play a little farther, the root of the word community is also the root of communion. As we celebrate the sacrament today, we remember that we share it as a sign of community. It is a point I try to make often when we bring communion to shut-ins; sharing the bread and cup is being shared in the greater community even when it is shared in someone's living room.
Jesus continues in his prayer, “ I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.” This is generally taken to mean we will see Christ's glory in eternity, heaven. Paul shows his agreement with this thought, in Romans 8: 18 “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” The apostle John wrote a lot about heaven. He suggests here that heaven is where believers will be with Jesus in heaven, a reward for their faith in Jesus; faith that is a gift from God. In heaven perfect unity will finally be fulfilled. Raymond Brown interprets it this way, “Only those who confess Jesus as the Son of God are eligible to be part of the unity of believers.” John introduced that concept in his gospel, John 3:16... God sent his son so that whoever believes will have eternal life. John 6: 40... The will of the Father is that all who believe in the Son may have eternal life. John shares that Jesus is the good shepherd, the bread of life, the light of the world. John has a very spiritual basis in his gospel, and we get a dose of his gospel at Easter and just occasionally at other times.
During this lectionary cycle, during the Easter season, we have also been reading from the book of Revelation. John is generally understood to be the author of this book of visions as well. A big part of the book is the visions of heaven that John shared. Visions of elders and martyrs worshiping about the throne, the promise of no more tears, no more death, mourning and pain will be no more. And today's reading have the very last words of the bible. In it, Jesus is recorded saying, “ See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me.” John shares the hope that Jesus is coming with his rewards soon. But the question is what is soon in God's timing?
The last sentence is a type of benediction, a prayer for those who read the bible, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.” We understand that grace is what gives us the hope of salvation, grace that allows us to enter into the presence of God, grace that offers forgiveness of our trespasses. So it is fitting that John closes with a prayer for grace.
Now we get to truly the last word. The last word of the book of Revelation, the last word of John, the last word of the New Testament, the last word of the bible. We know how important it is to get in the last word.
In fact, Gary and I were just discussing that. Neither of us have been very successful getting in the last word with our wives. Then this morning, Gary told me he finally figured out how to get in the last word.
Well I certainly wanted in to that so I asked him how he did it.
He told me, “It's easy, I just say 'Yes dear'”
Back to business. There very last word of the bible is a word we all know well and use perhaps every day. It is the word “Amen.” We say it often and, I dare say, we say it with little thought to what it is we are saying.
In the bible, there are several meanings to amen. Amen is a transliterated Hebrew word, it is the same in Hebrew as in English. Jesus used Amen often, but we don't read it that way in our English translations. When Jesus introduced an important theme, we read him saying, “Truly I say to you” or in John it is usually, “Truly, truly I say to you.” In Aramaic, it would be something like this, “amen lego humin.” In fact, almost seventy times Jesus uses this phrase across the four gospels. (thirty times in Matthew, thirteen in Mark, six in Luke, and twenty in John, where the amen is always doubled).
More commonly, we use it at the end of our prayers. And it doesn't mean simply “the end”. It acts as an agreement, an assertion that what was said is right. “So be it” is an acceptable translation. It is a solemn expression of belief or affirmation. For example, at the end of the Lord's Prayer, we say Amen; so be it—the kingdom, power and glory, God's will be done, give us our daily bread, forgiveness—so be all that we've said according to God's will.
And so the last word, John's amen, is an assent to all that has been written. It is the affirmation and confession of our fall from grace, of the sinfulness of God's people, of the constant restoration of God's people and our falling away again and again. It is declaring the incarnation of Jesus Christ, his death, resurrection and ascension and the teachings of Paul and Peter and John.
The last words of Jesus: a prayer for unity: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.” A big prayer, in many ways an unfulfilled prayer. Mark Twain tells this story: In a search for true unity, he put a cat and dog together in a cage. He was able to train them to live in peace. Then he added other animals and after a few adjustments, they learned to live in harmony together. Inspired by this success, he added an Irish Catholic, a Presbyterian, a Jew, a Muslim and a Baptist missionary. In a very short while, there wasn't a single living thing left in the cage. Fictional, but Twain had a way to make a point. The world will not recognize Jesus if we cannot live in relationship with one another in the name of religion.
The last word of the Bible—Amen. An affirmation of all that came before it; an acknowledgment of God's word given to us and an assertion that we will seek to follow and obey. God's gift freely given, God's word of truth, of salvation of grace! May God be praised! So be it! Amen!
Hymn: Sing Them Over Again to Me