I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about eternal life. I don’t worry much about it. Do you?
I’m mostly focused on the present. The here and now. The need right before my eyes.
The dog barking to go out. The e-mails that need to be answered. The laundry that I really should move from the washer to the dryer. The shirts that need to be ironed. The groceries that need to be put away. Now.
When I move away from the present—it’s usually a move to the past—a hurt that deeply stung, a taste I still savor, a moment I like to return to just because it felt so good. When I time travel, I travel backwards.
Eternal life is not a motivator for me.
And yet this week I’ve found myself focusing on eternal life.
Jesus asks his disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?”
Peter answers for the twelve, “To whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
I hear those words, “eternal life”, and I hear echoes of the hymn “I Am the Bread of Life”—a congregation singing together “And I will raise them up, and I will raise them up, and I will raise them up on the last day.”
There’s a finality to that phrase “eternal life.” A finality I’m not prepared to face.
But this week I heard that phrase “eternal life” in an entirely different way. It happened as I watched and later read about President Jimmy Carter’s amazing press conference. President Carter called the press conference in order to talk about his recent diagnosis of metastasized melanoma. He talked about the tumors he had removed from his liver, his confidence that the cancer had been caught and cut, the news that it had spread to his brain and his belief (at the moment) that he had but a few weeks left to live, the treatment on the horizon, and his hopes in the moment.
What struck me about that conference was what Carter said next. “I am completely at ease.” That’s eternal life—completely at ease in the moment at hand, confident that God who created you, who loves you, who makes you lie down in green pastures and leads you by still waters is with you every step of the way.
That phrase—eternal life—occurs seventeen times in the Gospel of John. The first time forms the core of the message in that hymn that will not leave my head alone—“Whoever believes in me—he shall live forever.” You know that verse from the Gospel of John. Sometimes you just see the number: John 3:16 on park benches and toilet stall doors and in evangelical tracts. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Listen to how Jesus uses those words:
“… but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the
water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to
eternal life.” (John 4: 14)
“Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me,
has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to
life.” (John 5:24)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, ‘He who believes has eternal life.’”(John 6:49)
“And this is eternal life, that they know the only true God, and Jesus Christ
whom thou has sent.” (John 17: 3)
Listen again to some of those words. Listen with the ears of Peter and the others who stayed with Jesus.
“The one who trusts in me shall live forever….”
“The one who hears my word and trusts him who sent me, has eternal life; that one does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life.”
Eternal life. Here. Now. In this moment.
Eternal life. At this table. In the bread. In the wine. In the word spoken. In the people gathered.
Life with God. That’s eternal life.
Trusting in the Word become flesh.
Abiding with the One who comes and dwells among us.
Taking in the Bread of Life.
Drinking deep of the Cup of Salvation.
Becoming one with the Holy One of God.