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John: Some Final Thoughts

We came to the end of our series on the fourth gospel last Sunday, so here are some final thoughts to wrap things up.

It wasn’t in my original service notes, but when I recorded the reflection for last week’s blog, I included a poem called ‘John’ by Malcolm Guite. I had happened upon it that day, and I rather liked it because it says much about why I love this particular gospel. I share it again now, for further reflection and to prompt a few final thoughts on the gospel we have explored together.

This is the gospel of the primal light,

The first beginning, and the fruitful end,

The soaring glory of an eagle’s flight,

The quiet touch of a beloved friend.

This is the gospel of our transformation,

Water to wine and grain to living bread,

Blindness to sight and sorrow to elation,

And Lazarus himself back from the dead!

This is the gospel of all inner meaning,

The heart of heaven opened to the earth,

A gentle friend on Jesus’ bosom leaning,

And Nicodemus offered a new birth.

No need to search the heavens high above,

Come close with John, and feel the pulse of Love.

There is a great sense of awe in the gospel, beginning as it does with that great ode to the Word that was in the beginning and was with God and was God. I have tried to speak before about the importance of the incarnation to my own theology, and there is a wonder I cannot fully express in John's image of the Word made flesh and living among us. And yet this awareness of Christ's divinity does not come at the expense of his humanity. He feels thirst (at the well in Samaria and on the cross), he has relationships like ours (recall him making sure his mother was taken care of as he died), he gets angry (think of the cleansing of the temple), he goes to parties (and knows how to choose the best wine), and he weeps (at the tomb of Lazarus). The primal light is among us as one of us and the eagle's flight comes in to land with a gentle touch. It is utterly thrilling.

I also love the theme of transformation that runs through the fourth gospel, perhaps more clearly than in any of the others. Not only is water turned into wine, but it is forever changed into an image of life and joy and the Spirit by Jesus' offer of living water. Not only is bread made a symbol of the body given upon the cross, but it is endowed with eternal meaning as a promise of sustenance for those who feed on Christ as the bread of life. For those who are paying attention, the simplest elements of our daily lives can never look the same again. John is the only gospel not to include an account of the transfiguration, and perhaps that is because here Jesus is transformed not into an untouchable iridescent figure, but into the very stuff of our existence, so that we might recognise that he is as close as our own breath.

And finally, I find myself deeply moved by what Guite calls the 'pulse of love' which animates the gospel. There is a tenderness in Jesus' interactions, from the way he passes no judgement on the unorthodox living arrangements of the woman at the well, to his particular closeness to the beloved disciple, to the forgiveness he offers Peter on the beach. And there is an expansiveness to the love Jesus shows, as he challenges the culture that keeps some out of the temple, and declares himself to be the shepherd who draws other sheep into his flock, and calls his disciples to love so widely and deeply that it is their defining trait. Here we see 'the heart of heaven opened to earth' and it is beautiful and compassionate and restorative. May that same pulse of love animate us too, that it might echo in our lives and reverberate throughout creation.

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