‘Immortality and Eternal Life’ was preached by Ralph Mallinson on 26th August 2018 at St John & St Mark’s Church, Bury. It’s based on John 6:56-69.
You will have noticed over the past few weeks how often in John 6 the words ‘life’ and ’eternal life’ have appeared.
Throughout Our Lord’s discourse about the bread of life – which many believe are in place of any account of the Last Supper that we see in the other gospels – He promises eternal life to all who eat his body and drink his blood.
Immortality & eternal life might seem to mean the same thing, but they don’t – even tho’ they both describe something that won’t ever end. What matters is to look at the start of what they describe rather than the end. An immortal person – Elvis Presley, Winston Churchill, Cilla Black – didn’t always exist; they had a beginning. At the end of their life they died, but they live on – are immortal – in the hearts and minds of those who love & remember them.
But an eternal person always existed – there never was a time when God didn’t exist, there never will be a time when God won’t exist. God is the eternal I am. Perhaps we need to understand this distinction when we are trying to grasp the meaning of Our Lord’s teaching in John 6 – and certainly those who left Jesus that day are by no means the only people who have found his teaching too hard.
God shares his life
It’s worth noting that Our Lord doesn’t here promise us immortality but eternal life – for since God is the only being who has always existed, only God possesses eternal life. So, when He promises eternal life to those who eat his body and drink his blood, he is promising nothing less than that God will share his life with them – to the n’th degree.
Normally, people only share their lives, themselves, with those they love & those they consider special. So we can conclude that God shares his life with us – promises us eternal life – because God loves us and considers each one of us to be extra special.
God’s love is so generous, so all embracing, that God cannot but share his very being, his eternal life, with us – no matter who we are, what we have done or left undone, no matter whether we are rich or poor, black or white, rich or poor, well known or unknown, ever so clever or as thick as the proverbial plank. No one, but no one, is outside the range and sphere of God’s love – UNLESS they place themselves outside of it. Even then we must believe that God continues to love such people.
At the end of today’s reading we have what you might call a “Peter-ism”. Do you want to go away also, like many of disciples, he asks, because they couldn’t cope with his teaching? But, asks Peter, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life?” And the bread and wine of Holy Communion are the outward, visible and tangible signs that even now we are sharing, at least in part, in God’s eternal life. The Holy Communion is a foretaste of the eternal banquet in the kingdom of heaven.
May I be fed
These are different responses from Holy Scripture to the gift of eternal life:
- Joshua in the Old Testament said: We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.
- Paul (?) in the New Testament wrote: Stand firm in the strength of the whole armour of God.
- And finally, Peter: You have the words of eternal life; we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.
So let us now bring those thoughts together with prayer:
Lord, may I be fed by your bread,
And share in your nourishing,
So that here on earth I may serve you as Joshua did,
Stand firm as Paul did,
And believe that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, as Peter did.
May I remain in your eternal life,
Here and in the world to come. Amen.
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