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St. John from the Book of Kells

Text: Gracia Grindal Tune: James Clemens



1. In the beginning,

Beginning of all,

There was no sinning,

No evil, no fall.

2. God's word once spoken

Made heaven and earth.

Nothing was broken;

Creation gave birth.

3. God's Word created

The whole universe,

All love, no hatred,

And nothing was cursed.

4. In that bright morning

The world shone with grace

And only one warning:

"This fruit do not taste."

5. Words swirled around us

And drove us to sin.

Walking, God found us

And dressed us in skins.

6. One day he'll save us,

And bruise Satan's head,

Who once enslaved us

And death will be dead.

7. Words filled with promise,

Will soon come in flesh.

Hear now the prophets

Who draw life afresh..

Text: Gracia Grindal


The Gospel of John gives us an eagle eye view of the life and ministry of Jesus. Thus John's symbol is an eagle. His feast day, in the middle of the Twelve Days of Christmas, gets short shrift, unfortunately. Matthew, Mark and Luke are the preferred sources for the Revised Common Lectionary. John is neglected and used only to shore up the synoptics, so our congregations never really get the full impact of John’s gospel during the year.

John, the apostle, was a son of Zebedee, or as Jesus called him and his brother James, Sons of Thunder, Boanerges. (Mark3:17) John was present with Peter and James at the raising of Jairus’ daughter and accompanied Jesus to the Transfiguration and was also nearby with them when Jesus prayed in the garden. Tradition says he is the one Jesus called the Beloved disciple and the one nearest Jesus during the Last Supper. He is thought to be the one who leaves with Peter to follow to the palace of the high priest. He is the one standing beneath the cross with Mary the Mother of Jesus and the one Jesus asks to care for her in his words from the cross. Mary Magdalene runs to tell Peter and John of the resurrection and John ran the fastest to see the empty tomb. (John 20:4) He is fishing when Jesus’ miracle fills their nets with 153 fish. And when Jesus tells Peter how he will die, Peter seems to be a bit jealous of John. (John 21:21) John went with Peter to the Temple where Peter healed the man and was imprisoned with him.(Acts 3:3) Tradition says that he did in fact take Mary with him to Ephesus and cared for her until her death. John died in Ephesus at an advanced age in 98 AD. Some accounts say he was martyred.

From the Lamentation of the Virgin from the Hours of the Cross.The Virgin cannot be consoled by John The Rohan Master 1435

There are various opinions about whether or not the apostle John wrote the Gospel of John which was Luther’s favorite gospel as it is for many. Its birth narrative goes back to the very beginning, to the creation. One hears echoes of the Old Testament over and over again in John's Gospel. The Farewell discourses of Jesus to the disciples from chapter 13-17 are tough going, but rich with revelations to the disciples and us. John records the foot washing scene instead of the institution of the Lord’s Supper; John gives us the conversation with Nicodemus in chapter three from which we get the great verse, the gospel in a nutshell, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John also gives accounts of events the synoptic authors did not: the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4); the healing of the blind man (John 9); the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11). He also narrates the seven signs or miracles of Jesus, beginning with the wedding at Cana, and ending with the raising of Lazarus. Jesus used the I AM name for himself seven times; John shows that the height of Jesus' glory is his death on the cross. I am most fond of the observation in the last sentence of the Gospel:" Were everyone of them [works] to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."

The author of John is also said to be the author of the three epistles of John and the Book of Revelation. Most scholars say maybe not 2 John or 3 John. In any case the Johannine books of scripture are wonderful gifts to the church!

I love the tradition that John cared for the Virgin Mary until her death as Jesus had asked him to do from the cross. The story of her death, attended by the disciples, has been cherished by the church. Tradition holds that some of the disciples were with her in her latter days and heard stories of her Son’s life and death, some of which made it into especially Luke’s Gospel.

The Death of the Virgin. Albrecht Dürer

Dürer did an etching of her death which is an emblem of the church—those standing around her have shared the sacrament with her and brought her the word, and in other ways cared for her. (One can grieve the times during the pandemic when people were not allowed to be with their beloved as they were dying.) When Jesus commended his mother to John, and she to him, many say he created the church, making us all related through his word and by our care for one another. Rodney Starke, the church historian, wrote in his book The Rise of Christianity (1996) that this care for the other is what made Christianity so popular in the early years. Romans who watched Christians caring for the needy--widows and orphans, abandoned children, the sick, hungry and disabled--were amazed at this love and many began to follow in the Way because they saw that here was something entirely and utterly different from their cruel ways.

It is something we should remember today and show the love Jesus demonstrated here among us and in his death and resurrection. People are dying to hear this good news and see it lived among them. This is what the gospel is all about—being assured of eternal life by the Savior so we can go about our daily lives and minister to those around us. These deeds, which we do on behalf of Jesus, we hear about at the end of John's gospel. They are the works of Jesus, and are so many, not all the books in the world can contain them! Praise God!


I wrote this hymn using John's quote from Genesis 1, the lectionary Old Testament lesson for the Feast of St. John. We hear it in the first words of his Gospel which also shows how God comes again in his Son to recreate new life for us all.

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