The phrase “keep us in Eternal Life” is used at various times in the prayers books of the Anglican Communion. In the Episcopal Church, we use it as part of the absolution of sins and in the Church of England it is one of the phrases spoken while giving the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
When you use or hear the word ‘eternal’ where does your mind take you? Do you think of some time in the future that only God knows? Do you think of the time after death? Or do you think of the here and now?
Eternal has no beginning or end it just is. Our life in God, who is eternal, doesn’t begin or end it just is. Whether or not an individual believes or acknowledges or accepts God doesn’t negate that God create us and the universe and all that is.
So, when we ask God to keep us in eternal life, just what are we asking?
One of the writers of the good news story, Luke, provides us with a tale in which someone asks Jesus, “what must I do to gain eternal life.” Jesus, as he often does, turns the question back to the man and asks him what does the law say and how does he interpret it? The man says “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus tells him that if he does this (love God, neighbor, and self) he will live. Not “someday” or “you will have earned it” or even “live forever” but you will live. In God’s Kingdom to live is to love and to love is to live. In God’s Kingdom love is God-centric and other-focused. This kind of Love can be challenging and difficult, so the man tried to find a loop-hole and asks Jesus to define ‘neighbor’.
Jesus’ response is what we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story that instead of telling us who we get to call ‘neighbor’ so we can ‘love’ the right people, turns the perspective around and shows us that we are called to be the good neighbor by serving others even if it is inconvenient or costly.
Life, eternal life, is living as God defines life for us where we are, here and now, following Jesus as we build up the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. When we ask God to keep us in eternal life, we are asking God to show us how to live life here and now by loving God and our neighbor.
So, as we begin to ease our way back onto the main road of this Lenten path, let us pray together “God to keep us in eternal life on earth as in heaven.”