Fourth Sunday in Eastertide – April 29, 2012 – St. John’s
This year our second readings during this Easter season are taken from the First Epistle of St. John. This is one of the shorter of the NT books, but it is also one of the most profound even when it uses the simplest of words to express its chief theme which is the love of God, God’s love for us and ours for God.
Today we hear simple descriptions of our present state and of what we may hope for. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us, that we may be called the children of God, and that is what we are.” The Letter had begun with an awe-struck description of the word of life that brings communion with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And this is repeated here: we not only are called children of God; we are children of God.
The fundamental Christian relationship with God is not that of servant or slave to master, but of child to Father. All the affectivity that should enter into a child’s relationship to his parents can and should obtain in our relationship to God. Not just the feelings that a small child feels toward a parent: utter dependence, reliance, trust, but those that remain with us also when we have reached maturity and have learned how much our parents have given to us: appreciation now, and thanksgiving.
And all this, of course, because of Christ. At the end of the prayer he prayed just before going out to his Passion, Christ asked of his Father “that the love you have had for me may be in them,” in his disciples. The Father’s love for his eternal Son is the Holy Spirit, and this is the love with which the Father loved them also, a love that makes them God’s children just as Christ was his beloved Son. The sign of this, as St. Paul said, is that we may use in our prayer the intimate word with which Christ addressed God: “Abba,” “Father.”
This is a truth that ought always to be the support of our Christian lives. In our most difficult moments, even in moments when honesty compels us to say, as our first word, like the prodigal son, that we are not worthy to be called God’s child, we have to cling to this truth, that we not only are called but are children of God, able to turn to him in confidence that his first gesture to us will be an embrace, his first word to us one of love and forgiveness.
And then there is our hope. St. John admits that we do not know what we shall be, but we do know that “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” The desire to see God is perhaps a universal element in religions; in any case, it was a great desire of the ancient world. Seeing is also one of the major themes in John’s Gospel. It begins with the flat statement: “No one has ever seen God,” a point made over and over again in the Bible. But immediately the evangelist adds: “But God’s only Son, he has made God known.” Christ says later in the Gospel that he has come to bring sight to the sightless, and he gently rebukes Philip for asking to see the Father: “Have I been so long with you, Philip, and you still do not know me? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” So that if everyone ever asks us, “What is your God like?”, we can point and say, “Our God is like Jesus.”
St. Augustine once said that our whole life on earth is a matter of preparing our eyes to see God. He was speaking, of course, of our inner eyes, the eyes of our heart, in echo of Christ’s beatitude: “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.” In a sense we have to become accustomed to the light in order to be able to see God. This means that we have to recognize the darkness in which we find ourselves, and not confuse our blindness to the truth and to the genuinely good for sight. Christ had those terrible words in which he told some of those who heard them that their blindness was all the worse because they thought they could see. To be able to see the world as God has created it, to see ourselves as God has created us, to see God as he is in himself, we may have to unlearn the world we are accustomed to.
In the end, the promise is, we shall see God and by seeing him become like him: “We shall be like him because we shall him as he is.” All the desires of religious hearts will be fulfilled, and the loving relationship that is already possible now, when we not only are called but are children of God, even when we are walking, not yet by sight but by faith, will then become face-to-face intimacy. This is the glorious hope that Christ’s resurrection holds out to us, one more of the many great blessings we celebrate during this Easter season.