Here is my sermon from yesterday's Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook:
At the end of John’s Gospel, the writer of the Gospel says, I have written about the signs performed by Jesus “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.” At the beginning of the Gospel “he carefully writes ‘the Word was God’, divine, personal, existing in the unity of the Godhead and yet somehow distinct—for ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (1:14).” That is the wonderful story which John sets out to tell us and at the centre of that story he has Jesus make “an absolute and unmistakeable claim to exist in the eternal being of God.” “Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.’” (John 8. 46 - 59)
Stephen Verney explains that, “When Jesus says I AM he is affirming his humanity – the whole of himself, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. He accepts what he is, now, at this present moment – his body, his passions, his intellect, his spirit. He is totally self-conscious.
At the same time he is using the name of God: I AM. When Moses asked God, “What is your name?” God answered, “I AM, that is who I AM. Tell the Israelites that I AM has sent me to you.
The heart of the consciousness of Jesus is I AM, God/human being. Human being/God. In his consciousness … earth and heaven, flesh and Spirit become one as they interact with each other.”
Malcolm Guite says that scholars agree that there is no confusion of tenses here, “but rather a proclamation by Jesus that he is indeed the great I AM, the one who disclosed himself to Moses at the Burning Bush as the God of Abraham and who named himself ‘I AM’. We know that this is how his first hearers interpreted this saying, for they heard it as blasphemous and tried to stone Jesus for having said it (John 8:59).”
Jonathan Arnold notes that “there are three different types of “I am” sayings [in John’s Gospel]. Firstly, the metaphorical (“I am the bread of life, light of the world” etc.) … where Jesus identifies himself in comparison to something else, often following an action or miracle, which becomes a sign, an identification, of who Jesus is and an explanation of Jesus’s actions.
Secondly, we have the self-identification sayings (“I am he, I and the Father are one, I am from above”, and so on). These sayings identify Christ in relation to his Father and usually follow some kind of inquiry, when Jesus is in discussion and his identity is called into question or needs verifying, either for the person with Jesus, or for us the reader.
The third kind of statement is the simple statement of existence and this only occurs once in 8.58: “Verily, verily I say to you, ‘Before Abraham was I am’.”
So what is the point of all these ‘I am’ sayings. Is John labouring the point somewhat? Well, if we consider the opening lines of the gospel: “In the beginning was the word” etc. then we have a gospel that is fundamentally Christological in its purpose. John is writing in order to explain that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”
Guite goes on to say that “for those of us who accept that Jesus is the great I AM, that revelation is the very root of our faith”: “The first and primal reality, the foundation of the Cosmos, is ‘I AM’, not ‘it is’. The deepest reality is not a collection of meaningless objects, but a personal God who speaks in the first person and shares the gift of personhood with us. When we turn to Christ we turn towards the great I AM, the source and origin of our own little ‘I-Amness’. Turning and returning to that source is always a great refreshment. No longer do we toil to ‘make ourselves’, no longer are we anxious about who we are, we simply receive our being as what it has always been: a gift. As Verney notes, the good news of John’s Gospel affirms that “The heart of the consciousness of Jesus is I AM, God/human being. Human being/God. The Gospel writer “then declares that his consciousness can become ours. Jesus offers it to us as a free gift.”
Oh pure I AM, the source of everything,
The wellspring of my inner consciousness,
The song within the songs I find to sing,
The bliss of being and the crown of bliss.
You iterate and indwell all the instants
Wherein I wake and wonder that I am,
As every moment of my own existence
Runs over from the fountain of your name.
I turn with Jacob, Isaac, Abraham,
With everyone whom you have called to be,
I turn with all the fallen race of Adam
To hear you calling, calling ‘Come to me’.
With them I come, all weary and oppressed,
And lay my labours at your feet, and rest.
Jonathan Evens - I AM who I AM.