Part 3: What in the world? (John Ch 13-17)

Tomorrow night the rapture is due.

According to Harold Camping, an 89 year old talk radio host from Boulder, Colorado, at some point on the 21st May 2011 all the faithful will be taken. And the renegade destroyed exactly five months later.

The story has grabbed media attention and generated great comedy. But rapture-predictions are the loony tip of a titanic iceberg: the genuine hope of departure from this world. Whether in our lifetime, or after death, huge swathes of Christian theology has lauded the chance to escape this life and the grounded physical existence we inhabit.

In John's account of the Upper Room (chapters 13 - 17) we encounter a unique story. It is very different to the other gospels (which are fairly similar to each other). There is no bread and wine - such a integral part of the story for the modern church. Instead Jesus washes his disciples feet and then has a rather convoluted conversation with them before praying an extended prayer.

For me, this section of John is summed up by the exchange in 16:16-30. Jesus says something cryptic and the disciples are bemused. Then he says something that appears equally cryptic and the disciples respond by saying 'Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech' (v.29)! John is full of pithy ideas, but it's really quite hard to read and understand.

In particular, Jesus big theme is his relationship to the 'world'. He has come into the world. But soon he'll be leaving it again. The disciples have been called out from the world. But will stay in it. But be not of it.

What in the world?


In part 1 (chapter 1) we introduced Jesus as the logos of God, the divine creative personality incarnate as a human being - history's most radical idea. Then in part 2 (chapters 2 - 12) we looked at Jesus' seven signs and how being born again is about resurrection. To be born again and experience life as a more gloriously physical experience than we currently know it we must eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus. In other words, we must follow him to the grave.

All of this is part of the alternative reality introduced by John's gospel. From outside of our world enters God, every bit as physical as you and I. Within this world of decay and death, healing and resurrection point to a different kind of physical life. There is a different space within the pages of John. And his Jesus bids us to search out its life.

The language of John is deliberately elusive. It's challenging Hellenist (Greek-thinking) assumptions about the relationship between the 'spiritual' and the 'physical'. But it is also responding to the political realities of living under Roman rule. The difficulty of finding space for a spiritually physical life that lives by the rules of a different kingdom is intense. The confusing language is John's attempt to tease out a tear in our language so that we can step through the veil to another world. Not just equally embedded, but more embedded - in a deeply physical life. But not smothered by the unimaginative shroud of the present world. Liberated instead to live.

But what does this mean in practice?

It means genuinely asking the question 'What in the world?'

What in this world is a physical expression of God's creativity? Where do we find those moments of divine incarnation - in music, in administration, in sculpture, in sex, in engineering? And what are the stories that surround us which mean we encounter these things as instances of the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of this world?

The Jesus of John's gospel presents us with the alluring possibility of another life within this world.

This is no rapture. But it does takes real faith to believe it.