On Our Passing from Death unto Life

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourth Sunday after Easter Day, 2021

All of Eastertide have we heard the teachings of Saint John, known in Tradition both as the Evangelist and also as the Theologian, because his writings are so deeply imbued in theological fragrance. Saint John is teaching us today how we know that we have passed from death unto life. In other words, the blessed Evangelist and Theologian is teaching us how we can realize the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 6—that if we have been united together in the likeness of Christ’s death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection. John is talking about passing from death into life—that is, participating in the Resurrection of Christ in the here and now, imperfectly but truly, as well as in the life to come after we pass through our transitory life into the next phase in Paradise, where as we grow in our love of Christ our participation is perfected.

John the Theologian says: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” It is through loving the brethren, the very fact of our loving them, that we can know that we have passed from death unto life—that is, that we are participating in Christ’s resurrected life. His phrase “loving the brethren” means our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We are, of course, to love all people as well; we are to know that God dwells in them and is fighting for their hearts as he is fighting for ours; and because of this knowledge, we are to seek and serve Christ in the hearts of all people. Yet firstly, as a matter constitutive of the Christian life, we are to love our Christian brothers and sisters, learning to love them as we love ourselves—indeed, because through baptism, they are ourselves, we are members one of another in Christ; all members of the one Body of which Jesus Christ is the head. A primary task of Christians is just this: learning how to love our fellow Christians as ourselves, and this is the parish reality, for a parish whose members do not love each other certainly will not be able to evangelize to their neighbors around town. Whereas a parish whose members are united together in mutual love of Christ in each other will achieve spiritual power that will overflow into the world and pervade the neighborhood. Indeed the more we practice our love for our fellow Christian, the easier it is to love the world ruled by the Prince of Darkness.

Our Lord Jesus Christ echoes all of this when He teaches us “Because I live, ye shall live also.” Because of His resurrection we have life. Now, we are all given life through our mother’s womb; but “life” in the Christian sense has a more specific meaning. Life in the Christian sense means the light of Christ, as John says in the prologue of his Gospel: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” To be alive is to be lit up by Christ—lit up by His presence, lit up by His mercy, lit up by His nearness, lit up by the Mystery of the Cross, which is at the heart of it all. Because of Christ’s resurrection, our hearts can have the light of Christ, thanks be to God. And we allow this light to shine (not that we make it shine, but that we allow the heavenly light to shine) the more we keep Christ’s commandments, meaning, the more we pray with His words, treasure His words, and abide in and live in His words. The power of the Holy Spirit through His words lights us up, lights up our heart, lights up all our being. We receive Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, through the opening of the Scriptures and the breaking of bread, by inwardly digesting our daily bread of Scripture, to warm our hearts while we are on our life’s journey, as the two disciples were on their journey to Emmaus.

The key to it all, John tells us, is the commandment of Christ. He says, “We should believe on the Name of Jesus Christ, and love one another.” We have reflected already on the necessity of practicing love upon our fellow Christians (which is what “love the brethren” means). Here also we have also the teaching about the holy Name of Jesus. Again it is an emphasis on the power of the Name of Jesus Christ. The Name of Jesus Christ must be central and fundamental to our daily prayer life. And I mean this in the most practical sense: the Name of Jesus must be constantly on our lips, constantly in our mind, constantly in our hearts. We must say with the Tax Collector, with the blind men given sight by Jesus, with Peter, with Paul, and with the other apostles, we must (the Church teaches) say the holy Name of Jesus, the Name above all other names. The apostle Paul affirms this is the way to receive most directly and most simply the Holy Spirit—to say the holy Name Jesus Christ, for in Paul’s teaching, our praying of His Name only happens through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Praying the holy Name of Jesus is how we receive the Comforter, and how we use His presence to give glory of God. Brothers and sisters, let us continue to use the prayer the Church developed for this very purpose, the Jesus Prayer, the Prayer of the Heart: Lord Jesus Christ, O Son of God, have mercy upon us. It is through this prayer that we most practically and most simply participate in the glorious resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.