The Celts of old remembered John on May 6th (see article there), but his modern feast day is today. He was Jesus’ closest disciple and is traditionally believed to be the only one of the twelve who was not martyred. He ended his days at an advanced age in Ephesus, and his tomb is in modern Selçuk. He was revered by the desert hermits and was thought of as the father of the emerging Celtic branch of the Church. Those who value the mystical within Christian faith particularly value his Gospel and Revelation.
Eusebius speaks of John’s exile to Patmos, where the visions in the Revelation were given him. A later monk of Patmos, no doubt recalling how John leaned across to Jesus at the Last Supper, declared, ‘Those who lean on Jesus’ breast hear the heartbeat of God.’ Eusebius speaks about disputes over the authenticity of John’s writings, but he also tells of John’s concern for a certain young man – a believer who fell into sin and finally became a bandit leader. John rode after him and was captured by his men. He declared his willingness even to give his own life for this man if he would only be saved. The man finally threw down his weapons and, falling into the old man’s arms, wept so greatly that it was as if he were baptised a second time in tears. John led him back, forgiven by God and restored.
The ancients gave the symbol of the eagle to John, for his writings help us to ‘rise up with wings as eagles’, glimpse things of heaven and hear what is God’s heart for us and for the world. Both Celtic Christians and Orthodox believers of the east hold John in high esteem and seek their own place within ‘The House that John Built’, a house of love filled with God the Holy Spirit.
Lord Jesus, Your beloved disciple, John, teaches us that we love because You first loved us. Help me to love as You have loved: to love my fellow-believers, my neighbours, God my Father, and also myself. So my I rise up on eagle’s wings to glimpse something of the mystery of Your purposes and hear the heartbeat of God. Amen.