St John: the last Apostle
December 27, 2015 26 Comments
Today is the feast day of St John, the beloved disciple, and these thoughts were inspired by Robert Browning’s poem ‘A Death in the Desert‘.
It felt so long ago – he felt so near. We had beheld him, we had touched the Word and the Light; now only I was left. Once I had gone, what then? Not for me that question – that was why he felt near. Soon, so soon, I would once more behold him whom I had loved above all others face to face; what was incomplete would be complete. But the question is for them – those here who tend to a dying old man. If I smile, it is at their insistence that the end time would come before I died; that was their way of explaining the long-delayed second coming – and, no doubt, why this old bag of bones kept going long after my legs had given out. It was love which made them carry me to the church on Sunday. They would cluster round, expecting me to say something profound and being disappointed when I said: “love one another, little children” – as thought that was not the whole of the Way; what is more profound than that? When they are wiser, they will know it. But I notice that the youngest ones know it – theirs is the wisdom of which he spoke when he said we must be like little children if we are to enter his kingdom.
It was all so very long ago. I look forward to seeing Peter – dear Simon-Peter, a man who would charge a Roman legion – it might be the wrong legion at the wrong time, but if it protected someone he loved, he’d do it. His heart was big as a lion’s, and I shan’t forget how he changed in the twinkling of an eye on that first Resurrection day. I outdistanced him to the tomb, but waited for him before we both went in – and everything was utterly changed – for ever. Then there will be mother Mary. So dear she always was, and so dearer she became after we clung to each other on the dreadful hill of the skull, where he gave us to each other. She came with me to Ephesus and to Patmos, and at the last there was that cloud which descended – and ten she was gone. How could she, who bore the Saviour of the world have needed to die before being reborn? She saw not death or corruption. Even now, when men and women have begun to collect relics of the old days, they ask me where her bones lie so they may reverence them, and I have to say they lie nowhere – she passed where I will soon be going without the interval I shall have. He loved her, and she loved Him – what Son would not do that for his mother?
And so with my passing, pass all who were his Apostles. The others went long ago, including that strange but wonderful man Paul. I remember when Barnabas vouched for him. The others thought it some trick, but you only had to be in his presence to know he has seen the Risen Lord too; he supplied what was lacking in us.
The light fades, and yet I see on the other side the Light waits for me. I have been patient these many years. I have kept the faith. It was hard to see those whom I had helped bring to him fill themselves with ego and make their claims as to what it all meant. So I wrote. I had thought the vision would be enough, and I hear they have kept some of the letters from the time of the troubles in our little community. But at the last it came that with all that the others had written, someone needed to write that God is love, and that He was in the beginning and was God. This seems deep to those who are not redeemed by him, but is simple enough to those who have come to him. The light of this world grows dim – that of the next is Him, and to Him whom I loved and who love me, I now come.