Remembering the Death of St. John the Theologian

Today is the Feast of the Falling Asleep of St. John the Apostle and Theologian. He was tortured in Ephesus and later in Rome and was finally banished to Patmos Island in Greece, a place that, at the time, was not nearly as developed and comfortable as it is today (wink). After the death of Domitian his exile expired and he returned to his beloved Ephesus from where he is traditionally believed to have written the epistles that bear his name.

The epistle reading for today is 1 John 4:12-19. It is a reading beloved by many Christians, and especially by those who think we should just quit fighting and get along with each other. (Which isn’t necessarily a bad sentiment, by the way.) I am particularly reminded of John Fischer’s simple and lovely little melody Rest in Him and the music of Matthews, Taylor, and Johnson and later Randy Matthews, when he went solo. (Whoo boy, those two references are going to date me – 70’s Jesus music!)

But when read in the context of St. John the Theologian’s life, his sublime words take on a rather different context. For instance, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us.”

This isn’t just “inviting Jesus into your heart” or telling your neighbor that you love Jesus, for John, confessing Christ meant things like boiling oil and exile. And even in the midst of such experience, he could say from experience that God still abides in us.

A similar profundity shimmers just below the surface when he says a couple of sentences later, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”

Since I’m on the topic of Jesus music, maybe one of the most popular songs of that whole genre is in truth a far better commentary on 1 John 4 than anything else from the era. That would be Larry Norman’s homage to the Apocalypse or Book of Revelation: “Life was filled with guns and war / and all of us got trampled on the floor / I wish we’d all been ready. / Children died / the days grew cold / A piece of bread could buy a bag of gold / I wish we’d all been ready.”

The words are certainly a bit trite in their own way, but far closer to the truth of the matter when St. John says that God abides in us when we confess his name. May God, in his great mercy, give us strength to confess his name.

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