Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saint John December 27

I John 1:1-10
John 21:19-25

The beloved Disciple, Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist, has set a standard for every genuine Christian theologian. How glorious and sublime his words, how enlightened his understanding, how profound his teaching; and yet his feet are planted in the real world. He opens his First Epistle as he opens his Gospel, speaking of the mysteries of God as they are revealed and made known to His Church through the Apostles and their teaching. He speaks of high and heavenly things, of mysteries beyond human comprehension, of truth so profound we can but scratch the surface, of mysteries hitherto locked away from the dawn of time, and now made known. Yet, in the same Epistle he speaks directly to the most material needs, the necessities of the body in our duty to the poor among us: "But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (I John 3:17)

And, this is not forced and awkward; it is not a sudden change of subject, or a redirection of thought. It all flows together; it is of one part, combined most naturally by a single thought, the love of God. And, who better than John "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (e.g. John 21:20) to unlock this mystery in his writing? The meaning of this phrase, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," can be reduced, by immature thinking, to some form of favoritism, or simple friendship. But, in light of the great themes of his writing, the Apostle was more likely to have been letting us in on revelation that made him the Theologian. He saw in everything that Jesus taught and did that inexpressible love beyond all human imagination. He saw it as the Lord was going about teaching and healing. He saw it as the Lord washed the feet of the apostles on the night in which He was betrayed. He saw it as he stood and beheld the agonies of Christ dying on the cross, giving his life willingly. He saw it when the Lord appeared after his resurrection to extend grace and mercy. To John it was this love that opened his eyes so wide that he could write, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."

John saw the love of God in Christ, for he had stood at the foot of the Lord's cross when he died. Writing of this, the revelation of God's love from the cross for all mankind, John takes that love personally by so describing himself: "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He knew that Jesus loved him, for he saw the Lord die for him, in his place, and cancel out forever the debt of his, of John's, sin: "It is finished (τελέω)." (John 19:30) John describes the effect of that death in these words: "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (I John 2:1, 2) He writes to open the door to everyone, that all who believe will also know that love, and also know what it means to be the disciple whom Jesus loved. See the Lord lifted up from the earth on his cross, and know that you are also, if you will learn the truth that makes you free, the disciple whom Jesus loved (8:31,32); for he loved you from his cross of death when he canceled out your debt of sin.

And so, he tells each of us that God's love is so great that we can enter the fellowship of those who have heard, who have seen with their eyes, who have looked upon, and whose hands have handled the Word of life. He dwelt among us because of what was made known to this one Apostle, that the Lord loved him. He could write of that love only in the great eternal and universal themes of his Gospel:

The Incarnation and the Trinity. The love of God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, is revealed in the uncreated eternally begotten Person of the Son among us, sharing our created nature as human beings and speaking of the other Paraclete to come. This double theme of the Trinity and the Incarnation permeates his writings, and those same writings rest on this double theme as a foundation.

The Atonement. As with every presentation of the Gospel, the facts are presented clearly, that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day appearing to witnesses who saw Him alive. He writes of John the Baptist identifying the Lord as the true Passover, slain to free us from sin and death: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29)," the One who suffered and died to take away our sins.

The Resurrection. Indeed, in the opening of his First Epistle he writes in such a way as to give us a completed picture of Christ, that He is God the Word, that He has passed through death, and has risen. For, only after his resurrection are we given specific words in Scripture to touch the body with his scars of death: "And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God." (John 20:26-28) As also St. Luke records, about the Risen Lord Jesus appearing to them: "And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." (Luke 24:38, 39)

So, it is all of one, one seamless garment of the love of God revealed in Christ. St. John writes of the mystery of God in opening his Gospel, where he writes of the Word (λόγος) who is God, one with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, through whom all things have been made, taking us to that Holy of Holies within the Holy Scriptures: "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) Within the Holy of Holies in the Old Covenant Temple, the glory was hidden to all but the High Priest, once a year and not without blood. In the revelation above every other revelation, the direct revelation of God in the Incarnate Word, in Jesus Christ very God and very man, that glory is seen by all. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." (14:9) And, this High Priest, the Incarnate God, the Lamb slain, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, may show the glory to all who will believe, and not without His own blood, which had been shed as the Lamb of God.

The Church is described uniquely in the opening of St. John's First Epistle. It is the very fellowship of all who believe the Apostles who had seen, and who had touched with their hands, the Word of Life. The implications are quite clear, that by believing the word taught by the Apostles, and touching the same Lord in his sacraments, we have fellowship with those Apostles across the barriers of time, fellowship with the Incarnate Christ who is the head of the Body, with God the Father, and with each other.

It is said that when he was elderly, John was carried about on a stretcher, unable to walk anymore. When he would arrive in a city he would go into the church, gather his strength, and say simply: "Love one another." This would have been no mere sentiment, no empty phrase, or idealism. He had lived through many deaths, his colleagues dying one after another as martyrs (beginning with his brother James); and now he survived to be the last of the Apostles. More importantly, he had seen his Lord die on the cross. He knew that same Lord to be alive, and to be present by His Spirit in the Church. For this old man to have said "love one another" was to speak volumes, to speak words filled with their own glorious weight of meaning, filled with the revelation of the Word made flesh.

So, let it be for us, a phrase filled with all the same meaning, a standard for every genuine Christian theologian and teacher, a standard for every beloved disciple.

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