Abundanter Life

Text: John 14:1-14
Date: Easter V + 5/22/11

At first in this Easter season our attention was captivated for three Sundays in a row by the event of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. First Matthew told us of the discovery of the empty tomb by the women, then St. John reported on our Lord’s appearances to the disciples behind locked doors, and finally St. Luke joined the chorus of evangelists narrating the event of that evening on the road to Emmaus. Last Sunday, then, we began to proceed from the facts of the resurrection to its meaning or implication for our faith and life, namely, in the ever-present guidance of our risen Lord as the Good Shepherd. There He said, “I came that [you] may have life and have it abundantly.” We wondered how we could have more life than we already have. But as soon as we discover that the end-cap and stopper of life has been removed, namely death, and that we are now slated to live forever, what Jesus called abundant life becomes even “abundanter”! Yes, my spell checker doesn’t like it either, but neither do any of our earthbound definitions of life as we know it. This abundant life, this resurrection life is not only in terms of longevity but also of a new identity (knowing who you are) as well as in terms of a new location (knowing where you are and where you are going). As God’s first question of Adam in the Garden after sin, separation and death entered the world was, “Adam, where are you?” so now God’s first promise of deliverance after Christ’s resurrection is Jesus’ promise that, “where I am you may be also.”

Well then. Where is Jesus? And are we with Him?

It is probably better to begin by asking, where are you now? Are you troubled? Our Lord is risen from the dead, and now we remember the things He said before, but with resurrection awareness. “Let not your hearts be troubled,” He said, “Believe in God; believe also in me.” Faith believes and rests in the voice of our Good Shepherd, in His word. Jesus is wherever His Word is spoken.

This faith is not of our own doing or effort. My goodness, the Gospels are the record of the slowness of Jesus’ followers to know, remember and believe. Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you,” and, “you know the way to where I am going.” “No we don’t,” said dear Thomas in a tone slightly too insistent for faith. “But it’s Me,” said Jesus. “I AM the way, the truth and the life.” Again, faith alone understands that where Jesus is and where He’s going and where we are to be cannot be calculated by a GPS, a global positioning system, but only by trust in His word. And that trust is the gift and work of faith.

God gives faith through the word of Christ as St. Paul said it so clearly, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). So Jesus said, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works,” the chief work to bring about repentance of sin and salvation through simple faith in Jesus Christ. And in fact this is the “greater work” done by believers when they “let the word of Christ dwell in [them] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [their] hearts to God” (Col 3:16), because in this way that same Word enters the ears of people throughout the world and throughout the centuries causing the same conversion and faith to happen in millions of lives. God so loved the world!

“That where I am you may be also” is salvation, is reconciliation with God, is eternal life. Sin brought separation—separation from God, from His world, from one another and even from our own self. Sin brought death, the separation of the soul from the body, something God never intended for us. Sin causes even our most intimate relationships to break apart until we are left alone. Alone! Sometimes we think we want to be left alone. “Leave me alone,” we say when we don’t want to be bothered, when we want to have our own way. Yet being left alone is, at the same time, our greatest fear. For we know that, ultimately, we cannot make it alone. We cannot go on living alone.

“That where I am you may be also” is in the fellowship of His Church. It’s not that Jesus is not present wherever the Christian happens to be, but it is especially here in the Divine Service that we know and believe He is here with you and for you. For here we receive His bone fide declaration of the forgiveness of our sins. Here we receive “the pure spiritual milk” of His pure Word (1 Peter 2:2) and the Way, the Truth and the Life. Here He is so intimately with us that we even receive His own body and blood. Indeed it is right here that we are most certainly with Him and He with us.

Yet that’s not all. For He speaks also of His Father’s house and that He has gone to prepare, not just a memorial or remembrance of you, but to prepare a place for you. The thief on the cross asked Jesus only to “remember” him. Jesus told Him, “you will be with me.” And so is the promise for us. “I go and prepare a place for you, [and] I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” For now He is with us and we with Him in His Word and sacraments. Then He will be with us and we with Him face to face (1 Cor 13:12), in the new heaven and earth (Rev 21:1) at the resurrection of all flesh (Mt 25:32).

The world thinks of abundant life in terms of the accumulation of things and possessions. The Christian is to think of the abundant life in terms of being possessed—purchased by God at the price of the blood of Jesus. How does the little catechism say it? “That I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” This is the abundant life, to me rescued from the lonely way and made “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (1 Peter 2:9-10).