The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Time for another round of collect trivia! This collect used to be the collect for the feast day of St. Phillip and St. James. In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer [BCP], it therefore reads:
O Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life; grant us perfectly to know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that following the steps of thy holy Apostles, saint Philip and saint James, we may stedfastly walk in the way that leadeth to eternal life, through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle reading was James 1:1ff. The Gospel reading was John 14:1ff., which makes sense because John 14:6 (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”) is the main Scriptural allusion contained in the collect!
Now, in both the 1979 BCP (which follows the Revised Common Lectionary or RCL) and the ACNA Sunday Lectionary, the Gospel reading is only John 14:1-14 in liturgical Year A. Oh well.
Truly Knowing God = Eternal Life
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life…
The first and most important thing about any collect prayer is what it has to say about God. This week’s collect reminds/teaches us that truly knowing God is everlasting, eternal life.
This comes from Jesus’ words in John 17:3. Here’s the context of the prayer (John 17:1-3), with the relevant section in bold:
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
I don’t know about you, but, for most of my life, if someone had walked up to me and asked “Hey, what is eternal life?,” my first answer would not have been “truly knowing God.” Instead, I would have said something like “living forever” or “never dying.”
I love this collect (and John 17:3, to which it alludes), because it reminds us that:
- Eternal life is about more than living forever, it’s about living forever in the true knowledge of God.
- “Knowledge of God” is about more than just knowing facts ABOUT God. It’s about knowing God—living in perfect relationship with God.
In just 9 words, this prayer has given us enough to reshape the way we (1) do theology, (2) live the Christian life, and (3) hope for future redemption! But wait, there’s more!
Jesus is The Way, The Truth, and The Life — Follow Him!
Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life…
OK, now we’ve arrived at the allusion to John 14:6, where Jesus declares that he is the way, the truth, and the life. However, interestingly enough, John 14 immediately proceeds to the fact that the knowledge of Christ = the knowledge of the Father. Here’s John 14:6-7:
Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
So, eternal life, the knowledge of God [the Father], and the knowledge of Jesus Christ [the Son] are all linked together — the link being enabled, of course, through the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. That’s why the main request in this prayer is that we might KNOW Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life.
But, lest we think that this is all only about (1) where we go after we die or (2) knowing the right things about the Triune God, both John 14 AND our collect this week remind us that the PURPOSE of such knowledge is Christ-like obedience to the will of God — for such is the way that leads to eternal life!
Consider John 14:12:
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
Consider John 14:15:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Consider John 14:21:
They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
Consider John 14:23-24:
Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
We are called to obey the will of God, not because God is a capricious God with a long list of rules to follow, but because living in perfect relationship with God is the eternal life unto which we are being redeemed!
We are called to obey the will of God, not in order to earn God’s love (which has already been freely given to us through Jesus Christ), but rather to “steadfastly follow [Christ’s] steps in the way that leads to eternal life” with God.
Because we are naturally inclined toward selfish disobedience (instead of Christ-like obedience), this is not an obvious truth. That’s why we pray this week’s collect.
We need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to who Jesus Christ is and what eternal life entails, so that we might follow Jesus Christ in perfect obedience to God’s will.