The glory of gift

The Seventh Sunday of Easter; Easter 7A (RCL); Acts 1:6=14; Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11, John 17:1-11.

Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel has been called Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer. In it, he consecrates himself to God on behalf of his disciples, and consecrates them to God on behalf of the world. Since John doesn’t actually narrate a ‘last supper,’ this prayer serves as the consecration of himself as ‘the lamb of God’ who takes away the sins of the world, and provides the feast that atones.

Jesus makes a gift of himself as our food, and makes a gift of us as food for the world (his Body). He prays for unity among his disciples so that the world may know that he and the Father are one. Too often, we think of the eucharist as God’s gift of grace to us, rather than as God’s gift to the world, or our gift to God and to the world. He prays that God may glorify the Son, in order to be glorified in the Son. He prays that we, the disciples, may also be glorified.

For John, the crucifixion is the hour of glorification, the gift of God to the world, restoring the world to the glory intended. Ireneaus has written that the glory of God is the human being fully alive. I think that is what John means by eternal life. Eternal life is this, to know the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom that God has given to the world.

We are glorified when we make a gift of ourselves, of our common life, and of the created order to God, in our eucharistic worship (even when we can’t celebrate communion) In these turbulent times, that gift can be as simple as wearing a mask in public to protect others from the spread of the virus. That is not only what love looks like, but what worship looks like. It assigns worth to others — worth-ship.

The author of the letter to Peter tells us we shouldn’t be surprised by times like these; instead we should rejoices insofar as we are sharing the sufferings of Christ, that is, sharing the same rejection when we offer ourselves to others. The world operates on a zero-sum calculus — there is a limited amount of whatever is important, and if I must share with you, that means less for me.

Gift operates on an open-sum calculus — the more I share, the more there is to go around. That is God’s glory. God share the entire divine self, and is only enriched in doing so. The adversary, the devil — both words mean something like the prosecuting attorney, the one who brings charges — prowls around like a lion look for someone to devour. Those early Christians could be sent to the arena, and fed to the lions on the charge of being Christian. That threat would be enough to make anyone return from an open-sum game to a zero-sum game. Be wary, says Peter. Don’t fall for it. God will give us Christ’s glory if we make the gift. Indeed, that is what the divine glory looks like. By freely giving (no compulsion here — abuse is not a free gift) self, we participate in the divine life, suffusing the whole cosmos with the glory of the gift.

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