Eternal Life is This

In the 60’s, in the comedy show, Beyond the Fringe, Alan Bennett, lampooned the parsonical Anglican preachers of his day, and their sermons which strung together in random fashion anecdotes, fatuous questions and biblical quotations pronounced in a meaningful way. In a sketch  entitled Take a Pew*  the preacher made the comparison that life, is like a tin of sardines. 'We are all looking for the key, when we find it, we roll back the lid to reveal the sardines the riches of life, and no matter how much we get out of it, there’s always a little bit left in the corner.  Is there a little bit left in the corner of your life', asks the preacher, 'I know there is in mine.'

Allegories of life are the stuff of clichés, of both optimists and pessimists. The optimist will tell you that 'Life is sweet', 'Life is just a bowl of cherries', 'Life is a cabaret, old chum.'

The pessimist will tell you 'Life isn’t all beer and skittles', 'Life is just one thing after another' or as Shakespeare’s Macbeth said 'Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale.'

'Life' is the third part of the three-fold self-description of Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. The three are closely intertwined. Most of the Greek Fathers saw that the way and the truth lead to life, whereas most of the Latin Fathers understood that the way leads to the truth and to life. Or as another writer has put it, Jesus is the true way to life. Jesus being life is another key theme of St John’s gospel. From the beginning John declares, ‘in him was life and that life was the light of mankind.’     

And here in John 17.3, he says that eternal life is to know the only true God, and his son, Jesus Christ. It can be difficult enough for us to make sense of this finite life, let alone an infinite life. But as William Temple says, “Eternity cannot be too long for our finite spirits to advance in knowledge of the infinite God.” Our eternal life began the moment we were conceived, and born into this world.

For the Christian, life is bound up in the life of God. If we recognise that the Spirit within us that makes us aspire to holiness is the same spirit of Jesus, who is one with the Father, then we see that our life is taken up within the life of God.

Life now is certainly different. Every day that I say Mass in the Rectory Chapel  I still fill in the service register, and when I write ‘1’ under number of communicants I feel a bit like a prisoner scratching the days on the wall of his cell, so as to keep some sense of time. Life and time seem rather unreal. It is 43 days since Easter, and yet life seems to have been paused in Lent. The weather has been more like June and July than April and May. Whether the days pass quickly or slowly the normality of March seems a lifetime ago.We can certainly say that Life is strange,

What a queer thing life is,’ Bertie Wooster said,  so unlike anything else, don’t you know.’

In many ways life is not as full as it was, it is diminished. Our life may be defined by our doing, and if we are not doing it, we are living less of a life. However, stripped down to the essentials of life, we can see that there is pleasure to be had in the simple things of life: in cooking and cleaning and household chores, in listening to a piece of music, in appreciating the cycle of nature around us.

St Paul declared that in God we live and move and have our being. Knowing God puts our life in a different, much greater context. Fundamentally Jesus teaches us to regard God as a benevolent Father who wants what is best for his children. Jesus gives us the model of prayer, as he speaks directly to the Father as if in conversation. Jesus shows us that God is the one who is completely interested in everything we have to say to him, when we pray.

Looking back on his youth, Alan Bennett reflected that 'being brought up in the provinces in the forties and fifties one learned early the valuable lesson that life is generally something that happened elsewhere.'

Life is what we make it, and we all have the power to make our life happy, whatever restrictions we have to live under; we might just need to change our perspective. The presence of the risen Christ makes our life whole and complete. But he is not just that little bit of sardine left in the tin. He is all of it, he is everything.  He is the wonder of God made comprehensible to the tiny human brain.

Eternal life is this: to know the only true God and to know Jesus Christ, the one whom he sent.  

God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God and God lives in them.


John 17.1-11

*The sketch can be found at