Sermon for Sunday 8 May 2022
Fourth Sunday of Easter
English is the only language I can think of that has just one word for the idea to know. Most of the other European languages I have some passing knowledge of tend to have two distinct words to describe two very different things – both of which are covered by the English verb to know.
Take French for example. French speakers have two verbs: savoir and connaitre. (It’s also the same for German with the verbs wissen and kennen, and Italian with sapere and conoscere)
The first lot of those verbs (savoir and wissen) mean to know in the sense of knowing about something. You’d use them in a sentence like, “I know that’s true,” or “I know the answer.” It acknowledges you are in possession of facts or information. An idea is in my mind – in that sense I know it.
But that second lots of verbs – connaitre and kennen – means something else entirely. That second group is about knowing someone as a friend – they’re the verbs you’d use in a sentence like “I know him very well.” Or it’s the word that shows you understand a situation – “I know what it’s like to go through that experience.”
It’s all those times we use to know in English when we’re actually talking about a person who’s our friend or a situation we’ve experienced ourselves. It’s emotional knowing, rather than abstract knowledge.
Jesus uses the verb to know in our Gospel today “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” The Greek verb in the New Testament’s original definitely means know in the sense of that second group of verbs. Jesus means he knows emotionally, heartfully, in a way that connects and reaches out. The sort of knowing Jesus is referring to isn’t knowing about someone. It’s knowing them as a person.
If you want another analogy – it’s like the difference between knowing someone only on facebook or knowing someone in real life. On facebook, you can know all about them – you can see pictures and statistics that give you knowledge about someone. But really to know what someone is like, to reach out to them and to get to know them, to connect with them – you’ve got to meet them.
Jesus shows us God isn’t interested in just knowing stuff about us. He wants actually to know us personally, intimately. He doesn’t just want to get access to our facebook profile; he wants to meet us in person. And the way he does that is through his Son Jesus Christ.
Jesus tells us in the gospel reading we heard today what the consequences of knowing and being known by Jesus are. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.”
The reality we celebrate all the way through Eastertide is that through his Resurrection, Christ gives us nothing less than eternal life. He promises we will always be his.
For faith is not about being convinced of God’s existence because he is a worthwhile idea. No, our faith is about knowing and being known by a person. Jesus Christ. That’s what everything we do as Christians is all about.
When we receive communion, it’s about encountering a person – Jesus Christ. When we read the scriptures – it’s about hearing the voice of a person – Jesus Christ. When we serve our neighbour, it’s not about doing an abstract good – it’s about recognising a person Jesus Christ, present in the lonely and the needy.
And that is the glorious mystery that Marcel will start to share in today when he is baptized. As water is poured over him his participation in sin is washed away and he is made one with Christ.
A new personal relationship is begun between him and God – a relationship in which he begins the journey of faith which one day will lead him to heaven.
He will be known by Christ and it is the responsibility of his parents and godparents to make sure he is brought in such a way that he knows Christ in return. He will need to learn how to pray, how to love his neighbour, how to put himself last and others first, and how to see in every single human being the image of God no matter what their background, or race or class is.
In a few moments, we will make our way to the font where we shall baptize Marcel. As we do that let us keep Jesus’ words from today’s gospel in our minds: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.” For that is the promise entrusted to Marcel today: eternal life that will not perish.
Fr Peter Anthony