A sermon on eternal life.
“And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5:11)
There is an old Dilbert comic in which the character, Ratbert, observed that it is the people with the most experiences who die. So he decides to live in a coffee can experiencing nothing – guaranteeing immortality. A week goes by and Dilbert asks Ratbert how the whole immortality thing is going. Ratbert responds, “So far, it’s overrated.
Immortality is overrated.
A few years ago a philosopher, Todd May, also suggested that immortality is overrated. He suggested that living forever would eventually become dreadfully boring and eventually unbearable.
I suppose he’s onto something. If immortality is just mortal life extended indefinitely there might not be much to commend it. Our limited mortal selves cannot bear immortality in that sense. It would just get tiresome and boring after a while.
But that is not the Christian hope. We do not hope for mere immortality but for eternal life. Eternal life as it is presented in the Bible and the Church’s tradition is not just about an infinite length of life but about an infinite quality of life. To get at the, we have to start at the beginning.
In the beginning there was God and there was nothing. Then, BANG!, where there was nothing there was something – stars planets, galaxies, super novae – the whole spectacular universe in all its majestic glory. It was amazing. And angels and archangels and all the company of heaven said, “Ooh Ahh.”
And then out of that something that had been nothing, one little planet (at least one) God created life – grass, trees, flowers, algae, banana slugs, pelicans, humpback whales – the whole three-ring circus of life on earth. It was beautiful. And again, angels and archangels and all the company of heaven said, “Ooh Ahh.”
But God wasn’t done yet. Where there had been nothing, now there was something. Out of that something there was now life. And then, out of that life, God created a particular form of life that could respond to God’s love and enter into relationship with him and one another and the rest of creation. A form of life that could represent God and care for his creation – life created in God’s own image. God created humans. Fantastic! And again, angels and archangels and all the company of heaven said, [signal congregation to join in] “Ooh Ahh.”
But God intends even more. With the sending of God’s Son in the incarnation, God has testified to a still more fabulous design. From the beginning it was God’s intention to catch us up into God’s very own life, to make us “partakers of divinity” as 2 Peter has it. Out of nothing, something. Out of something life. Out of life, men and women created in God’s image. But, God intends to fill us with himself and make us divine beings in deep communion with himself. And when that happens, angels and archangels and all the company of heaven will for all eternity say, “Ooh Ahh.”
In the Incarnation, God has joined himself with us and intends to join us to himself forever. This is what St. Irenaeus of Lyon, an early Church theologian, meant when in the 2nd century he wrote that the divine has been made human so that humans may be made divine.
That is what eternal life means. Not just some version of this life extended forever beyond death. Eternal life is the eternal sharing ever more fully in God’s eternal love, joy, and peace.
Have you ever had an experience that caused you such joy, you felt like it was more than you can bear? Most of us have. If that is true of earthly joy, how could we bear divine joy? How can we bear the complete joy Jesus talks about in this morning’s Gospel? Another early theologian, suggested that God, making us divine, will eternally expand our capacity to bear and share more and more and more of the love and joy and peace that is God’s own life. God is eternal and infinite. Eternal life is an eternal sharing in the glory of that life.
Eternal life can begin now. In this morning’s Epistle we hear “whoever has the Son has life.” Through Jesus Christ and his Spirit we begin even now to experience some of his love and joy and peace in anticipation of the fullness of eternal life.
We get more of a glimpse of this in those saints – those who have been more fully sanctified in the truth – who have been able to love the finite things and people of this world as icons through which they have loved God who is infinite and infinitely desirable. Seeing things and people as icons of the Eternal, the saints have engaged the eternal desirability of others.
By God’s grace, following the example of the saints, we can hope not just for life beyond death, but for foretastes of eternal life even now. And we can begin to engage our lives, the lives of others, and our surroundings as means by which we enjoy and are enjoyed by the God of Eternal Life. When we do that, angels and archangels and all the company of heaven look on and say, “Ooh Ahh.”
We were made for eternal life. We were made to become fully human, in deep communion with God and one another. And by God’s grace we were made to become more. We were made to share in God’s own eternal, to be caught up in divinity, to become in some sense divine ourselves, eternally sharing in God’ infinite life of love and joy and peace.
And when that happens, angels and archangels and all the company of heaven will say, “Ooh Ahh.”