Source: The National Herald
By. Rev. Dr. Theodore Stylianopoulos – Special to The National Herald
A star musician? An acclaimed author? A famous inventor? Men and women have always pursued superb achievements and high honors. But what is truly the loftiest goal and the highest privilege of all?
In the light of our Christian faith, the answer regarding the highest privilege is this: to be in communion with God – to know God as a loving Father, to pray to Him and live in His presence, to be assured that you are His precious child among His holy people on Earth, and to trust that you will live and rejoice in Him for all eternity.
A recent Gospel reading (John 17:1-13) is part of a great prayer from Christ. The prayer is set in the context of the Last Supper when Jesus shared a last meal with His disciples in intimate love and friendship. At the same meal, Jesus had also addressed a long farewell to the disciples about the completion of His mission, His suffering and death, and the future role of the disciples.
Jesus prayed to God: “Father, the hour has come! Glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You.” Christ spoke of a special hour that had arrived. What was that hour? It was the hour of the Cross and the hour of the Resurrection. It was the hour of Christ dying and rising from the dead for the redemption of the world. It was the whole period of the final days when Christ completed His mission on Earth and returned in glory to the Father.
The ‘hour’ of Christ was also our own hour, the hour of our eternal salvation accomplished once-for-all by Jesus the Savior. At this crucial juncture, Christ summed up the result of His saving work on Earth, of the great blessing He accomplished for you and me. He prayed that God give Him ‘exousia’ – authority and power “to give eternal life” to all who believed in Him and followed Him. He then offered a definition of eternal life as knowledge of God and knowledge of Christ. He said: “This is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3.)
When we think of eternity we usually conjure up some abstract existence stretching forward without limits, a kind of endless prolongation of life in solitude. The Scriptures tell us something quite different. They portray God’s Kingdom as a vibrant spiritual reality filled with the songs of the angels and the prayers of the saints, a festive and joyous realm where the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, shine on all things with light and love.
That glorious reality, known to us now only in metaphors and verbal pictures, is our own destiny in God’s plan, our own final home, our own promised inheritance of ineffable beauty and bliss in God’s loving presence. By His life, death, and resurrection Christ, the Son of God, accomplished the greatest triumph over the powers of sin and death, and opened the gates of Grace to all humanity. St. Paul writes: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” (2 Cor 5:19.) And again: “Through Christ, we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Rom 5:2.)
The hour has come! The hour of the crucified and risen Christ extends to all ages. The hour of salvation is an ever-present ‘now’ throughout history. The gift of eternal life, the life of communion with God, is a present reality. The urgency of the good news is echoed in St. Paul’s words: “Behold, now is the acceptable time! Behold, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor 6:2.)
This is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3) Christ grants to us not only ‘mind knowledge’ of God but also ‘heart knowledge’ of Him. He taught that God is a personal and loving Father who cares for the “birds of the air” (Mat. 7:6:26) and the “lilies of the field” (Mat. 6:28). God in the person of Christ knows each one of us by name and desires to grant fulness of life to all (John 10:3,10).
Christ Himself is the personal presence of God in our lives. To know Jesus in the beauty of His person, the wisdom of His words, and the grace of His deeds – to know God as personally and directly as it is possible for humans.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14.) The true light and life of God came to the world to be seen, to be heard, to be touched.
Here is the apostolic witness of St. John the Evangelist: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life… we proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest…so that you may have communion (κοινωνία) with us; and our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1-4.)
We live in a hurting and confused world. Anxieties and fears trouble our hearts about the future of our country. Inflation may persist for months or more. The political and social divisions seem to be beyond the will and skill of our political leaders. As citizens of the most powerful nation in the world, we appear unable to protect our own children from harm. Our teenagers are bewildered by the tensions and disunity in our society, many of them doubting their future and others losing hope and harming themselves. The plight of gun violence has become a tragic trait of American life [generating an urgent need for]collective action. The war in Ukraine continues with no diplomatic solution in sight and with unsettling prospects for the world.
The hour has come! Let us recall the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman: “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.” (John 4:23-24.)
Christ calls us to attention as genuine believers and sincere doers of His will. We cannot directly and immediately cure all the problems of society. But we can nurture a spiritual center and a vision of strong faith from which to live our own lives, our own families – and we can contribute our part toward fairness and reconciliation in our country. Our spiritual center is our personal Communion with God, the gift of eternal life already given to us by Christ, from which we can live and act with integrity, humility, hope and love towards all people.
In His prayer, Christ told the disciples that He had revealed to them the name and the word of God, which means His wisdom and commandments. He also told them how they had participated in the mystery of communion with God (John 17:6-8). They “believed” (επίστευσαν) that Christ was sent to the world by God. They “received” (έλαβον) God’s teachings in their hearts. They “had kept” (τετήρηκαν) God’s word steadfastly. And they “came to know in truth” (έγνωσαν αληθώς) that Christ came from God.
Christian life revolves around those attributes of faithfulness, joyful reception of God’s blessings, obedience to God’s words and commandments. It revolves around personal knowledge that in the risen Christ we have the highest gift of sharing in the very life of God. And we have an invincible “hope [which]does not disappoint us” as St. Paul says, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:5.) Amen.
Rev. Dr. Theodore Stylianopoulos is Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Holy Cross School of Theology.