Back when I was in school, I was taught the same essay structure that most everyone who goes to university is taught. First you have your opening where you point out what it is you hope to show in the essay. Then you have the main body where you go through your ideas and whatever you use to support those ideas. Finally, your conclusion is the part of the essay where you get to say, “see, I told you so.”
The Gospels are written in a similar way. First, there’s the introduction that explains what this ministry is about. In Luke, Jesus famously tells us that he’s going to bring good news to the poor and declares the year of God’s favour. Here in John, it’s more about theology and the belief that Jesus and God are one and that Jesus and God are to be glorified. This is shown in chapter one where John rewrites the creation story to show that Jesus was with God from the first moments of creation – “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God… And the word became flesh and we have seen his glory.”
Next, we have the body of his Jesus’ essay. In the other gospels, we have Jesus caring for the poor and vulnerable and teaching how we are to do the same. In John, we have Jesus performing what John calls signs that lead us to believe that Jesus and God are connected.
In today’s reading we hear a portion of Jesus’ final words before his arrest. This is called the farewell discourse and it goes on for 4 chapters. This passage is his prayer to God asking for care for his followers and the world. This prayer is also a bit like the conclusion for the essay of his life. He had his thesis statement, he did the work and now is the summation: “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.”
And what was this work? Jesus says that he’s made God’s name known and led people to believe in the one true God. He has also taught his disciples so that that they can go and teach others: “the words that you gave to me I have given to them”
And all of this he’s done so that we can have eternal life which for John is marked, not by living forever but in knowing God and Jesus.
In recent months, I’ve done far more funerals than normal and so maybe I’ve got funerals on the brain but to me, this prayer from Jesus almost sounds like a eulogy. No, eulogies aren’t normally written by the person who has died or is about to die but it’s not unheard of. Jesus knows what’s going to happen to him in the days to come and so this is the summation of his life, what we can remember about him and what we’re going to take from having known him. Imagine one of his followers saying these words in a gathering of his closest followers the day after the crucifixion. “Today we remember Jesus who exercised holy authority over the earth and who glorified God by doing God’s work. We remember his love for all. He loved his followers and even those who mistakenly saw Jesus as a threat. He loved us so much that he was willing to die so that we would know the truth about God’s love for us and the love we are to share with all our neighbours”
Of course, we’ve all been to funerals where the line between sinner and saint is blurred a bit – scoundrels are turned to angels and maybe this is sometimes OK. There’s good and bad in all of us and so why not on one day, focus on what we’ve done right. For Jesus, this would have been easy. He was a saint, he was an angel, he was a hero to many. Of course, as is usually the case, being a hero to some means being a villain to others. The Roman authorities and the religious leaders who colluded with them would have had a very different eulogy for Jesus. I suppose along with that abiding good and bad we all cary is a good case of complexity.
What would you want people to say at your funeral and would it be honest? Better yet, if you were to write your own closing words, what would you say about your life? What are you proud of? What do you regret? Maybe there’s some stuff that you’d like to have said but it’s not true yet. I’d like my eulogist to mention the novel I’d written, but since I’ve not done that, maybe I should get on that. I’d also prefer they didn’t mention how judgemental or stingy I can be. I’d rather my eulogy not focus on how I procrastinate so maybe that’s another adjustment I might want to look into. Tomorrow.
I don’t mean to rush you and I hope you all have lots of time left before you’ll need this eulogy but maybe now is the time to start thinking of this, while we still have time to live into what we’d want said. Would you want the focus to be on the great kindness or generosity you’ve shown in your life? Maybe you’d like to have the eulogist talk about how important family is or how much you loved serving your community? Maybe you’ll want to be thought of as someone who was slow to anger or quick to forgive.
What would you say if you were asked to write a eulogy for Jesus? Maybe you’d focus on his hospitality and kindness, the way he’d share his time and love on the best and worst of people. Maybe you’d talk about how he was so very concerned with the wellbeing of the poor. Would you talk about the radicle, revolutionary Jesus who sought a new world without the corruption and cruelty that often comes when politics, religion and economics get too cozy? Maybe you’d talk about what he mentioned in today’s reading – Jesus’ life glorified God.
As Christians, maybe when we’re writing our own departing words, when we’re composing our own version of “I Did It My Way,” we could keep in mind these final words from Jesus. I’d love it if when my time comes to an end if someone could stand up and say that my life led people to know God a bit better, that I showed love to those who others turned away, that I stood up for justice, or that I’ll be remembered for loving my neighbour. And I hope when these words are said, that listeners don’t smirk and think, “if only they knew the truth.”
If you read my article in the paper this month you’ve already seen the homework I assigned but I offer it to all of you. Think about or even write the eulogy you would like to have spoken at your funeral. This isn’t meant to be a morbid exercise but instead a kind of goal setting – how do you want to be remembered and if you want to be remembered as a person of Christian faith, how will that be described? God has given us all the gift of being able to build our identities, how do you want to be described?