In the sixties, Joni Mitchell sang a song “I’ve looked at life from both sides now. From win and lose and still somehow it’s life’s illusions I recall. I really don’t know life at all.” Many people feel shortchanged or cheated where life is concerned. What did Jesus mean when He said He came to give us abundant life? Jesus tells us today, “I have come so that they may have life and that they might have it more abundantly.” I do not think that there is any other word that is more expressive of Easter.
The gospel of John has been called the gospel of life. John makes it clear that this is why he wrote the gospel. That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that believing you may have life in His name. What does being alive say to you? What does it mean for you to be alive? It, of course, means different things to different people.
So many things can make us feel alive: Lazarus emerging from the tomb, astronauts walking on the moon, a child licking an ice cream, each of those is very much alive. We can all think of a time when we have felt gloriously alive. So brimful of life that it almost hurts. Hopefully, many such occasions will fill our lives. Perhaps, it was the first time you held your newborn child.
It may have been something as ordinary as skiing downhill at a tremendous speed or just downing an ice-cold beer on a hot day. On these occasions when life can be wonderful and you hate to miss a moment of it, we can all enumerate those things that thrill us and make our everyday life worthwhile. But, what does it mean to be alive in Christ?
What is John talking about when he tells us that he has written his gospel so that we may believe in Christ and have life…Christ’s life? It means that you in some way try to be like Him and that might not be easy. He immersed Himself in our broken world, He loved people who were flawed. They were harlots, tax collectors and thieves yet He loved people who others feared like the lepers and the demon-possessed. Instead of condemning His torturers, He forgave them.
His love did not entail big emotional outbursts or passionate proclamations. He loved by serving, by washing His friends’ feet and by healing those who were desperate and abandoned. In the 33 years He walked among us, Christ turned the whole world upside down. He told us: the poor are rich, the last one first, the meek are blessed and the dead are alive. Trying to follow His path can seem frustrating and impossible at times.
Many years ago when I was in school at C.U. in Washington, D.C. Fr. Henri Nouwen came to give a talk. Fr. Nouwen is a great spiritual writer. If you go to the Graymoor Bookstore you will find a whole shelf of his books. Fr. Nouwen had dedicated much of his life to working with mentally handicapped people. He was a true servant in all he did. Fr. Nouwen brought up one of his mentally handicapped friends, Bill, up to the podium. It was a big deal for Bill, the first time he was to speak in public.
He and Fr. Nouwen had practiced for a week. What he was going to say and how he would say it. But when Bill got to the podium to help Father with his talk, for the first time he saw how many people were there. For the first time, he looked up and was blinded by the lights which made him nervous. All he could do was to lay his head on Fr. Nouwen’s shoulder and cry.
Father put his arm around his shoulder and calmed him down as he filled in for Bill. At the end of the talk, there was a standing ovation. As Fr. Nouwen gave Bill a handkerchief to dry his tears you could hear him say, “Wave Bill, they are clapping for you.” A smiling and happy Bill waved both hands. The conference attendees felt we had been present at a scene from the New Testament.
Jesus ministering to the mentally handicapped reminded the academic community of the real purpose of being church. It is not just about degrees and building programs, not just about fancy sermons and long devotions but about being other Christs. That may mean standing next to each other and providing a shoulder for weeping. Whenever goodness is shared, tears dried, comfort given, charity done, there is the life of Christ.
Then you will not sing with Joni Mitchell, I really don’t know life at all. Life in Christ is Christ in us. But it is not enough just to have it. We must live it. In the fifth century, Pope Leo the Great said, “Christians, recognize your dignity, live your Christian life. A God-Man took on human form because of you and He died for you so that you might live for God and each other.”
God lives in you so that you might live for Him. So, recognize that dignity and you will recognize your calling. You are Christ-bearers, act like Christ-bearers. You are called to greatness…..then be great. Ask yourself a question, “Can anyone tell that Christ makes any difference in your life?”