John 14: 1-14
So on this fifth Sunday of Easter, the setting of our Gospel is grim and sombre. After all Jesus has just finished a last supper with his disciples. He has washed their feet, given them a new commandment, predicted Peter’s denial, foretold Judas’s betrayal, and told his friends that he is about to leave them. “Where I am going,” he tells them, “you cannot follow now.”
Needless to say, the words of Jesus hit hard, and fill the bewildered disciples with fear and concern. What on earth is Jesus talking about? How will they survive if he leaves them now? Where will they go and what will they do? What will happen to their hopes, their dreams and their plans? Why is the ground shifting under their feet? Why is everything changing?
Many people – you and me included I expect – in these last few weeks of lockdown and isolation due to Covid -19 pandemic, sheltering at home, reading the daily headlines or listening to the news, are probably fearing to varying degrees what life in general, and indeed our own lives are going to look like during the next few months or years. Therefore, we can all probably relate to the disciples’ questions. Why is the ground shifting under our feet? What’s going to happen to our families, our towns and villages, our nations, our world? Will the centre hold and where is Jesus in all of this pain, fear, death, and loss? How will we find him if he’s gone to a place, we “cannot follow now”?
It is no surprise then that, the anxious disciples respond to their new predicament by demanding and wanting some certainty and security. A natural reaction when we feel things slipping from our grasp or feel we are out of control. Thomas asks Jesus for a roadmap or some kind of pointer, a list of directions, as to where to go. He is looking to Jesus to tell him straight: “How can we know the way?”, he asks him.
Then Philip asks for evidence and proof: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” What they want — and what we all want, if we are maybe honest with ourselves — is the religion and faith with a Global Positioning System. The GPS that tells us the exact position on the ground that we want to be in or need to be in. The secure five point plan neatly printed off for ourselves, the twelve easy steps to get us where we need to be without getting lost, the ten commandments of direction. The formula if you like that if you do A, followed by B, and then C, and you will unerringly arrive at the correct destination D that you were aiming for.
But that wasn’t Jesus’s response. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says because “I am the way, the truth, and the life and if you know me, you will know my Father also.” There it is. There is no roadmap. There is no master plan or any form of satellite system to use for direction. There is just Jesus himself. Just the messy, intimate, ever evolving, and often confusing business of relationship. Of trust, patience, and vulnerability.
I expect most of us could come up with a whole list of things that trouble our hearts at the moment. Things that are close to home such as illness, family concerns, financial worries or in the wider world those of war, famine, and global warming.
Maybe it feels at this moment in time, the place you find yourselves in, like a tall order right now, to “not let your heart be troubled.” To trust in the fact that you do in fact know the way — the quiet, unglamorous, risky, but ultimately life-giving way of Jesus. But you do. Like Thomas, like Philip, like Peter, like all the others, you do know Jesus. You know his life and ultimately you know his love. You know his death and above all you know his resurrection. You know what it is to hunger for him, to seek him, to listen for him, to hope in him. You do in fact know the way.
No, the way is not what we thought it was going to be. It is not a straight path free of any kind of obstacle, neatly signposted with clear sight of the destination. The way is demanding and costly to us. The way is precarious sometimes taking us via the cliff edge, through the thorny wasteland, showing us many twists and turns and at times makes us wonder if we are just going round and round in circles. The way takes time. But the invitation of this Gospel reading we have heard this morning is still an invitation to confidence. Not because we are experts at finding God, but because God has always, and already found us. With every unknowing we embrace throughout our life’s journey, God finds us one more time and shows us the way.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” Jesus tells his forlorn and worried disciples. And what does Jesus mean by this? Well he means that God is roomy. God is generous. God is hospitable. God can handle your doubts, your fears, and your questions. And God’s offer of belonging extends far beyond the confines of this mortal life. “I go and prepare a place for you,” Jesus says this as he stands in the shadow of his own cross. I am telling you that you have a place with me. You have a place with God. You have a place.
So, a grim and sombre setting. There are real questions from real people. Yet an offer of comfort. The promise of home. The Way.
This is a Gospel for our time. The story — your story, my story, our collective story of this precarious, overwhelming moment — will not end in death. Though we might feel alone and frightened right now, the Way is open before us. We know it. We know Jesus, and because we know Jesus, we know God. The Way will safely bear us home. Do not let your hearts be troubled.