Whither Jesus?

Seventh Sunday of Easter; 16 May 2021; Easter 7B (RCL); Acts 1:15-17, 21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5:9-13; John 17:6-19.

The first words out of Jesus’ mouth in John’s Gospel are addressed to the two disciples of John the Baptist who follow Jesus. Jesus turns and sees them following and asks, “What do you seek?” They reply, “Rabbi, where to you remain?” Jesus answers, “Come and see,” giving us, the readers of the Gospel, an invitation to discover where Jesus remains (the verb μένειν, menein, to remain, and its cognates appear dozens of times in John’s Gospel). This is the central question of the Gospel

In this passage from the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel, the question arises again. Jesus says, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.” Where is Jesus? He is coming to the Father: not yet in the Father’s presence, but coming to the Father. Also, in this passage, narrative time seems to slip. Jesus is speaking while he is still in the world as if he is no longer in the world. And he has sent his disciples into the world just as God has sent him into the world, though in the narrative he won’t do that until after the resurrection.

In all the passages that use the verb μένειν, there is a confusion about who abides in whom. That blurring of boundaries is intentional. Jesus abides in the Father and the Father abides in Jesus. We abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in us. We abide in the Father and the Father abides in us. And the Spirit, or Paraclete, when he comes will abide in us. Here we have the perichoretic dance of the Trinity, even in the absence of the fully developed doctrine. The confusion of time is also intentional. In the reading of the Gospel (liturgically?), Jesus is both fully present in the community, and already departed toward the Father.

Luke has to move Jesus off the scene in order to inaugurate the age of the Spirit and the Church. For John, the age of Jesus and the age of the Spirit always overlap. Where one is, there is the other also.

The First Epistle of John has stressed that whoever has the Son has eternal life already. For the Johannine school, eternal life (the life of the ages, eons, is the phrase being translated) is not some distant future life in the restored Kingdom (John rarely uses the phrase “Kingdom of God”), but some sort of enhanced life now. In the story of the raising of Lazarus, when Martha meets Jesus, he tells her that her brother will rise again. She replies that she knows he will rise in the resurrection on the last day. Jesus replies, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die (or will not die for ever). Do you believe this?” She answers, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” That’s not what Jesus asked. She is expecting a future resurrection. Jesus, the resurrection and life, is standing right there in front of her.

If Jesus abides in God, and God in Jesus, and we in Jesus and Jesus in us, then as Jesus ascends into the presence of God, to the glory he had before the creation of the word, then we are carried with him into that life. And if Jesus stands in front of us in our worship as the Body of Christ, then we share that life now, and will journey ever deeper into it, just as Jesus journeys to the Father.

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