John 17, Some Last Words

thumbnail33“….Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him.  And this is eternal life, that they know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”   -John 17:1-3

The stakes are high.  It’s important not only to be right about who Jesus is, but even more so, to be pure in heart in relation to him (Matthew 5:8).  Throughout the past many months we have been gaining clarity about Jesus’ identity; during the coming two months, as we complete John’s gospel, we have further opportunity to grow in purity of heart, to enter a new year this Advent more thoroughly converted in heart, mind and body.  If we choose this, willingly like Mary, we can be certain that our entrance into eternity will be along a path of bright sunshine, fresh air and deep breathing; a path filled with wondrous exclamation, “Omigosh!  It was all true!”

A well-known contemporary writer wrote a poem constructed of actual last words by people on their deathbeds, a portion of which I will share with you:

This is too tight; loosen it a little.  I pray                                                                                  You give me some sack!  Bring me last year’s apple,                                                               If you can, or any new melon.  A dozen cold oysters.                                                            My children!  My papers!  My book, my unfinished                                                             Book!

From my present sensations, I should say I was                                                                 Dying                                                                                                                                                     –and I am glad of it.  The world is bobbing around.

Do you know the Lord’s Prayer?  Cover me.                                                                         Shut the door.  Can’t see you any more.                                                                                      I must go home.  I am very forlorn at the present                                                               Moment, and wish I was at Malvern.

Am I still alive?  Do I drag my anchors?

So here it is at last, the distinguished thing!                                                                             Is this dying?  Is this all?  Is this                                                                                                  All that I feared, when I prayed against a hard                                                                   Death?

O!  I can bear this!  I can bear it!                                                                                              Now I have finished with all earthly business                                                                          –High time, too.  Yes, yes,                                                                                                              My dear child, now comes death.                                                                                               Is it come already?  Here, here is my end.                                                                             Wait a moment.  Do you not hear the voices?                                                                      And the children’s are the loudest! ……                                                                                                                              

I am coming, Katie!  John, it will not                                                                                            Be long.  Supremely happy!  Excellent!                                                                                    My dearest, dearest Liz.  We are all going;                                                                              We are all going;  we are all going.

This is it, chaps.  Take me home.                                                                                                     I believe, my son, I am going.  That’s it.                                                                               Good-bye–drive on…..

I’m going, I’m going.  At a gallop!                                                                                            Clear the way.  Good-bye, God bless you!                                                                             Good-bye, everybody.  A general good-night.*

-from “Deathbeds”, in Mornings Like This, Found Poems, by Annie Dillard, using                 Le Comte’s Dictionary of Last Words, 1955

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On the memorial of St. Augustine this past week, Magnificat printed an excerpt of one of his exhortations to Christians, part of which is this:

So now, brothers and sisters, let our desire be directed toward nothing but heaven, to nothing but eternal life.  We must none of us be pleased with ourselves, as people who have lived uprightly here, nor compare ourselves with those who live bad lives, like that Pharisee who justified himself, who evidently hadn’t heard the Apostle saying, “Not that I have already received, or am already perfect” (Phil.3:12).  So (the Apostle Paul) hadn’t yet received what he still desired. He had received a pledge; he said so himself:  “(God) has given us the pledge of the Spirit” (IICor.1:22; 5:5).  The thing which this was a pledge of, that’s what he longed to reach.  A measure of participation–but at a  distance.  We participate one way now, we will participate then in quite another.  Now by faith, by hope the same Spirit; then, though, it will be by sight, it will be the thing itself; but the same Spirit, the same God, the same fullness.  He is crying out to us while we are absent, He will show himself to us when we are present;  he is calling us as we wander in exile; he will foster and feed us in the home country.                                                                                         – From Sermons, III/5

It would be remiss of me not to direct you to Benedict XVI’s chapter 4 in his outstanding book, Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week, and I will be referring to this book as we look at chapters 18-21 of the Gospel of John, as well.  The chapter concerning the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus is theologically rich, yet at the same time, quite readable.  And the fact that Pope Benedict approaches the prayer considering four major themes–eternal life, sanctification in truth, making God’s name known, and Christian unity (which is what I emphasized all this month)–certainly makes reading it well worth the effort.

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I’m looking forward to our first Wednesday interisland ferry trip and our discussion of John 15-17, on September 4.  Blessings on your weekend!  JC

* Permission has been requested to change structure slightly – jc