Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 24, 2020
“We Proclaim His Glory!”
Acts 1: 6-14
Psalm 68: 4-10; 18-20
1 Peter 4: 12-16
John 17: 1-11
Bishop Ariel P. Santos
In the Gospel today, we have Jesus praying what is called a high priestly prayer. I want to focus on one thing that He said. He defined for us “eternal life”. In John 17:3, Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Renew our minds about our wrong ideas of eternal life. Eternal life is not the assurance of escaping a dreadful destiny after we die. Eternal life is not something we get either from a deal or a transaction that we enter into with God to secure that insurance. It’s not something only Christians can obtain or something that non-Christians will never get.
In Jesus’ definition, eternal life is relational, not transactional. It is knowing God, which is why in this Church, in our Diocese, our mission is to know God and to make Him known because knowing God is eternal life. Making Him known is sharing this free gift of eternal life God wills for everyone. It is a relationship.
In the Bible, the word “know” means “to have an intimate relationship with someone.” It is not just getting acquainted with someone, but it is about being close to them in an intimate relationship. The Bible uses marriage as a metaphor to illustrate or to depict the relationship of God and man. We enter into union with God so that we are one with Him. In marriage, two parties become one. Man and woman become one flesh; one being. They share one purpose; one life. A spouse [a bridegroom], which in our case is Jesus, is not our passport to what we call heaven. We are neither marrying His wealth, His prestige. We are not marrying Him so that we can get from Him what we want. In a marriage, one doesn’t marry to avail of power, prestige or wealth, but the person.
True knowledge is experiential: face to face; intimate. In marriage, this means that couples spend quality time doing various activities together. It is not an intellectual knowledge, but spending time together under the same roof every day and grow in the knowledge of each other. Couples involve and give of themselves.
Our relationship with God, the eternal life of knowing Him, is for now. Eternal life is not something we can only have after this earthly life. As in Jesus’ definition, eternal life is knowing God. Where is God? God is here now! We can have the knowledge of Him – the eternal life – in the here and now, not something reserved for the future.
We should not use Jesus as our passport to heaven. I believe that we will discover that our relationship with Him can be heaven here in the present and in this place. In our National Anthem, we, Filipinos, sing “Buhay ay langit sa piling mo.” For other people, due to many complaints, they may say, “Buhay ay impyerno sa piling mo.” I believe, infinitely more so, we will discover that “Buhay ay langit sa piling Mo, O Diyos, O Hesus.” Kung kaya nating sabihing buhay ay langit sa Pilipinas, lalo’t higit sa piling ng ating Panginoon. (If we can say that life is likened to heaven here in the Philippines, all the more in the presence of our Lord.)
Heaven – eternal life – is not actually where we are, but who we are with. Those who are in love don’t care wherever they would go. The truth is when two people have just started dating and the boyfriend/girlfriend would ask, “Where do you want to go?” the cheesy reply would be, “Anywhere for as long as I am with you because life is heaven when I’m with you.” It is not the place. It is who we are with when we are with someone whom we are close to or intimate with that makes life heaven.
Two years ago, my wife celebrated her 50th birthday and we threw a surprise party for her. I was very much involved in the planning. I recruited people in the planning and the execution. I invited people. I spent money. I sang and danced in the party and I embarrassed myself doing these. I was excited and I had a great time. Why? It is because I know the celebrant. It was as if I was in heaven as I really enjoyed the party. If you were a “plus one” to this party, you would be uneasy because you don’t know the celebrant; but if otherwise, you will be excited, and you will stay and participate in the celebration.
If our relation with God is such, then worship, the Mass, the Eucharist or anything else that celebrates God whom we are close with, is something we will be excited doing. We will not drag our feet to go to Church. We will be excited and we will come prepared. This is because of this intimate relationship with God, and with Him, it is eternal life. Whether it is heaven or hell depends on how close we are to Him. How much we enjoy this relationship depends on how close we are to Him. I am not saying we can get everything here and now, but we still look forward to something in the future. What we look forward to is the fullness and the growth of that relationship into fullness. One day, as God promised, we will experience something more – not that we won’t experience anything now – that eye has not seen nor ear has heard as God has prepared for us to have a relationship with Him.
Everybody wants eternal life, but how much would we give to have eternal life? To gain or to obtain eternal life? How much do we actually give of ourselves – our time, our talent, or our treasure – toward this growth of the relationship with God? This is the life; this is heaven; this is bliss. It is not about using God or pleasing Him for the sake of getting what we want. In one parable, some people thought that they knew God and they had eternal life. They said, “Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your Name? Didn’t we cast out demons? Didn’t we do miracles?” Jesus told them, “I do not know you. We’re not one flesh. We don’t have a close relationship. I don’t know you.”
This tells us that it is possible to do religious work – church work – and still not know God or His Son, Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, St. Paul said, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, have the gift of prophecy, know all mysteries and all knowledge, have all faith to remove mountains, give all my possessions to feed the poor, and surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” We cannot know God without knowing love, because God is love. Love is another definition of God. We can’t know God without loving our neighbor as well. It is not wrong to do works. In fact, they are a means or a proof that we have this relationship with God. They are means for us to manifest the closeness of our relationship with Him. But if we know God, we would do good works and charity works in love. Otherwise, our motive is wrong.
The scribe asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “You know the commandments.” And He also said, “Do them and you will be close to the kingdom of God and you will know Him.” This tells us that knowing God and being close to Him means obeying His commandments as well that is, loving Him and loving our neighbor as well.
In America, they have what is called the contiguous state. In Tagalog, pagkakaisang kumpol. Contiguous means amalgamating or one connected to a whole. Hence, one can travel on land anywhere within the contiguous 49 States; but they have territories outside of that huge land. For example, Hawaii, as one of their States, is not connected to that one huge chunk of land, but it is still considered as a state of America. Guam, another territory, is also their state. They are all part of the United States of America and they are one with them even if they are not literally connected to the main land.
My desire and my prayer is for this Church – Cathedral of the King – to be a territory of heaven, so that we operate according to its government. We operate according to its ways and its principles. I am glad to say that I can see that we are on our way.
Several weeks ago, when one of our deacons, Dcn. Ben Sevial, got sick then hospitalized and eventually died, I saw heaven in action in the lives of his brothers who cared for him. They took care of everything. They took him to the hospital, risked their lives, prayed for him, attended to him, and paid for the hospital bills. People all over the world even participated in this work. People planned and executed this plan. His family was very thankful, and said that they have not seen any Church like ours who really takes care of her own.
I am proud as well to see heaven in action in the initiative of the men in our Church. We have what we call a “FUND-emic” – a fund for those affected by this current pandemic. We give financial aid to those who are in need. I am proud of them and thankful for their work and their initiative. Even the core group and the donors themselves expressed that they found joy and fulfillment in seeing the smiles on the faces of the people they helped. The people, who are in need, realized that God loves them through our Church whom God has a relationship with.
I always say this: The Charismatic Episcopal Church will be known for its relationship; for its compassion. We will not be known for our doctrine or for our special ability in certain areas like music or preaching or the glitzy glamor. This reflects our intimate relationship with God and our eternal life with Him. This is being citizens of the Kingdom. This is knowing God and this is eternal life. And this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.