Have you ever been on a blind date? I never have—not because I was opposed to them. There were moments in my high school and college years when I would happily have gone out with someone I had never met. I get the impression that the Internet has increased the incidence of two strangers meeting for the start of a potentially romantic relationship. It must be both fun and scary to walk into a restaurant not knowing which person is waiting for you.
There is a beer commercial on television right now that features a man and a woman sitting in a table at a bar getting to know each other. Each of them keeps pointing out ways that they have protected themselves in case the date didn’t go well. “See that group over there at the bar? Those are my friends in case this didn’t work out,” the woman says to the man. “Yeah?” he replies, “Well those guys over there are my friends, and it looks like they are hitting on your friends.” The viewer gets the warm, fuzzy feeling that everything is going to work out—if for no other reason than that both of them is drinking the same beer.
I think that many people approaching heaven like a blind date. They go through life expecting to enter paradise upon their death even though they don’t really know what they’re getting into. There’s no safety net, though, and they have made plans to spend eternity in heaven even though they have no idea what it’s like. These are the people who talk about Jesus and God in ways that I find not only novel or confusion but downright contradictory and anti-Christian. And I’m not just talking about people of other denominations. Denominational differences, while sometimes extreme, are far less insidious than the unsanctioned beliefs of Christians like you and me who decide that God is supposed to work the way we expect him to. But it’s a dangerous thing to approach a relationship by expecting the other party to be the person you expect her to be. She never is, and then where are you?
In the gospel lesson from today’s Daily Office (John17:1-11), Jesus prays to the Father, saying, “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.” We all know that Jesus came to give us eternal life. I’ve been taught that since I was a little child. But, to me, eternal life has always meant going to heaven. But that’s not what Jesus says. What is eternal life? To know the only true God and Jesus Christ. To know them. Not to believe in them. Not to acknowledge them. Not to ask them for favors. To know them.
We are entering the triduum—a fancy word for the three days of drama that begin tonight. We will watch Jesus wash his disciples feet, go out into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, be betrayed by one of his friends, be tried and convicted by a mock court, be tortured and mocked and humiliated, be nailed onto the cross where he will die, and be laid in a tomb. And, right before all of this begins, Jesus says to his disciples and to us, “Eternal life is knowing God and me, whom God has sent. Pay attention. This is what it looks like!”
Is the faith we claim rooted in the next three days? Do we worship a king who was crucified, or do we claim allegiance to a ruler of our own design? Are we sitting down at the heavenly banquet on a blind date, or are we taking time to get to know the one who accepts humiliation as the glory of God? Are we seeking eternal life by desiring knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, or are we hedging our bets and saying some magic words that we think will get us to heaven?