Two weeks ago, we heard this prayer as our Collect for the Week:
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Sunday, we’ll hear Jesus say this in the midst of his High Priestly Prayer:
Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
And I’m thinking a lot this week about how different the 21st century American version of the Christian faith would be if we really believed that knowing God was eternal life. It is almost impossible to fathom. We’re so inculturated by the Enlightenment that knowledge has become either an object of worship or something to be scorned. We’ve lost the sense of truly knowing someone: intimately, deeply, carefully. That, and we’re obsessed with visions of the afterlife in books like “90 Minutes in Heaven” and “Heaven is for Real” that we can’t think beyond how heaven will just be a like a much longer, cooler, life-like experience: like the best virtual reality has to offer.
But what if eternal life is nothing like that? What if, as Bruce Milne and NT Wright have both said, eternal life isn’t about quantity of life but quality of life? And what if that quality of life is simply the overwhelming love that comes from a deep knowledge of God?
Honestly, if I hadn’t just recently given some real thought to the Easter 5 Collect, I probably wouldn’t be so hung up on this, but here I am, at 4:30 on Thursday, when my sermon is supposed to be in the books, still pondering how to preach this paradigm shifting statement by Jesus.