Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Holy Gospel, our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, as an act of filial love, provides for His most blessed Mother as He comes to the end hanging upon the Cross (Jn. 19:25-27; 21:24-25). Of course, we know it doesn’t end there, but in His dying moments He demonstrates great love for His most pure Mother. He provides for her future because, by this time, she is a widow. He entrusts her into the care and protection of His beloved Disciple, traditionally held to be John, who does not name himself in his Gospel – not an uncommon thing. He chooses, however, to remain humbly anonymous, overwhelmed, so it is conjectured, that the Lord Jesus should even consider him to be His friend, given his sinfulness. Taken by the Lord’s profound love for him, then, as a sinner, John uses the technique of referring to himself in the third person as “the Disciple whom Jesus loved.” John becomes caretaker and guardian of the Most Holy Theotokos – the “’Woman,’” as our Lord calls her affectionately, ranking her as the very Woman foretold in the first Messianic prophecy in Genesis. Speaking to the ancient deceiver of mankind, the Lord God declares, “’And I will put enmity between thee and the Woman, and between thy seed and her Seed; It shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise His heel’” (Gn. 3:15). Inasmuch, then, as John is made the Virgin’s caretaker and guardian, he also, as Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ, is made a caretaker and guardian of all that he has seen and heard and handled with his hands, that is, the Word of Life, the Eternal Life come down from the Father. The Woman, therefore, in the person of the Theotokos, is the embodiment of the Church – the Woman, the Wife, the Bride of the Lamb of God (Ep. 5:22-33; Rv. 21:1-3, 9-27).
And so, the Church commemorates this most blessed Apostle who has given us not only the Gospel that bears his name, but three general or catholic Epistles, as they’re called because they are penned to the Church-at-large, and the Revelation of Jesus Christ. On this day, however, the Church commemorates the miracle that occurs at his grave. Every year, on this date, “dust rises up from his grave, by which the sick are healed of various diseases” (Prologue of Ohrid I, p. 532). John the Apostle, even in death, continues to work the works of his Lord God and Saviour Who loved him with a love unfathomable.
St. John the Evangelist and Apostle has been given the appellation of “the Theologian.” Only a few saints – less than a handful – have been so designated by the Church over her two plus millennia. A desert monk by the name of Evagrios once averred that “A theologian is one who prays, and one who prays is a theologian.” If we take his axiom at face value – and there is no reason we shouldn’t – then we can surmise that, of all things, John the Evangelist and Apostle and beloved friend of our Lord was a man of prayer – of deep and intense prayer – thus winning him this rare title. It says something about him that he is recognized as “the Theologian.” This is not to infer that the other Apostles and disciples of Jesus were not theologians in their own right, that is, in the sense of intimately knowing God, but that there was something extraordinary about this Apostle and his relationship with the divine. John the Theologian had a profoundly personal knowledge of God obtained over the years he walked with Jesus and then deepened by a life of prayer and devotion.
Of all the Gospels, John’s is understood by the Church to be the most mystical and sacramental. He writes, so it seems, with the Mysteries in mind, with their truth and reality ever before his eyes. He is a man of theological vision. He sees the incomprehensible Mystery of God penetrating and permeating the world and all of life. Everything is related to God and God to everything. He sees God’s sacramental Presence everywhere and in all things: the woman at the well in Samaria (Jn. 4:1-42), the raising up of the paralytic in the healing waters of the pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem (Jn. 5:1-15), and the healing of the blind man with the waters of Siloam (Jn. 9:1-41). All of these are baptismally oriented while the feeding of the multitudes and the discourse of our Lord on the Bread of Life come down from Heaven is Eucharistically oriented (Jn. 6:1-14, 22-59). We can see why his Gospel lends itself neatly to catechumenal instruction and mystagogy, that is, the post-baptismal catechesis of those who have been illumined in the sacred waters stirred by the Holy Spirit. The Mysteries of the Church permeate his writings and understanding. He is a theologian by way of prayer, communing with the very Mysteries and the One Who is their Author and Finisher (Hb. 12:2). From this Evangelist and Theologian, we get the much beloved image of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for the sheep (Jn. 10:1-28). And, of course, it is St. John who has given to us that most beautiful chapter introducing us to his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, . . . .” (Jn. 1:1, 14). St. John sees all of life theologically, which means, he sees the Logos – the Word – permeating all of life and penetrating it. And, for good reason – “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (Jn. 1:3). The Logos – the Word – “was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (Jn. 1:9). “In the beginning God created . . . .” (Gn. 1:1).
And still, for all of his mysticism, it is this Apostle who insists theology must be made earthy, flesh – enfleshed – incarnated and embodied, not disembodied. Read his Epistles. There is no way he will permit us to neatly compartmentalize and isolate our faith from life. Because God has to do with everything in our lives. There is no area of our life that is off-limits to God, no area that God does not permeate and penetrate. His sweet-smelling aroma is “everywhere present and fillest all things” (“O Heavenly King”). God is present in and made real in the “fellowship,” that is, the communion of the saints – the mystical Body of Christ – the Church. Christ God is made especially real in the Church whose divine origins is from the blood and water that flowed from His riven side. The crucified and risen God is enfleshed in His believers and He is made real to those who believe in His Name through the Apostles. To those who so believe are given Eternal Life. To be united with the apostolic witness, according to St. John, is to be in communion with the Apostles and with our Lord and His Father. “[T]hat which we have seen and heard we declare to you,” says the Theologian, “that you also may have fellowship [communion] with us; and truly our fellowship [communion] is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” It is in this sacred union, then, made present through the apostolic witness and word that “our joy may be full.” The Church is the touchstone of both the apostolic witness and the Presence of God. She is theology embodied because in her and through her we can touch Jesus and handle Him. With her we hear Jesus’ own words – ever ancient, ever new. The Church is full of the light of God shining forth to enlighten the world’s darkness, to enlighten our darkness for the sake of healing us. She does so authentically as she remains in communion with her Apostles, their true witness, and the Most Holy and Blessed Trinity.
St. John the Theologian, then, capstones this incarnational reality for us: It is only as we remain in communion with the apostolic Faith and apostolic Church that the blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God continually cleanses us from all sin! The Evangelist and Theologian will not allow us to kid ourselves here. Tagging onto the teaching of Ecclesiates that there is no “just man upon earth who doeth good and sinneth not” (Ec. 7:20) – a phrase we use in a number of our services – the Apostle and Theologian readily confesses that all of us are sinners. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not in us,” he declares. In fact, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and His Word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8, 10)! None of us, then, cannot not come to confession.
But, St. John is equally clear: though we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Rm. 3:23), we are not defined by our sin nor by our sinfulness. It is not who we are. Rather, in Jesus Christ and through Him, we are “children of God” – sons and daughters of God Most High, “and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when [Jesus Christ] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:1-2). And he concludes: “[E]veryone who has this hope in [Christ God] purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 Jn. 3:3). Brethren, we are called to purity of heart and life, of body, soul, and spirit. Without holiness, none of us will see the Lord, Sacred Scripture tells us (Hb. 12:14).
Beloved in the Lord, there is no neutral ground to be found. St. John will not yield on that: we are either children of the Light and of God the Father or we are progeny of the devil, the father of lies and prince of darkness (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:7-9; 5:19). We can’t be somewhere in between because there is no such place to be. Theology – which is the love of God – is made real and palpable in our loving of our brethren. If we say we love God and that we walk in His light, this love of God must be manifested, then, in our love for one another (1 Jn. 3:10-24; 4:7-11). For, as St. John asks aloud, “How can we say we love God Whom we have not seen if we do not love our brethren whom we can see?” “[T]his is the commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 Jn. 4:20-5:2).
It is this mystical and incarnational theology that separates us from the world and puts us at odds with it, the Theologian says. It is to be expected, however. Nevertheless, because of the crucified and risen Son of God we may have confidence and assurance. Indeed, we dare to have hope!
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? . . . And this is the testimony: that God has given us Eternal Life, and this Life is in His Son. He who has the Son has Life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have Life. These things I have written to you who believe in the Name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have Eternal Life, and that you may continue to believe in the Name of the Son of God (1 Jn. 5:4-5, 11-13).
Through the prayers of the holy, glorious, and all-laudable Apostle and Evangelist, John the Theologian, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
VIGIL PROPERS: PROPERS:
1 Jn. 3:21-4:6 1 Jn. 1:1-7
1 Jn. 4:11-16 Jn. 19:25-27; 21:24-25
1 Jn. 4:20-5:5