John 14: 1-14
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”
Will you pray with me: Holy God, giver of life and The One to whom all life returns, dwell with us this morning that we may more fully come to know what it is to dwell in you. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our rock and our redeemer, Amen
I feel a dissonance this time of year. It is a dissonance that I should probably come to expect. But it is one that seems to always take me by surprise and that leaves me rather unsettled.
And this dissonance is — that while the world is erupting with new life and is generously offering up such incredible beauty and abundance in bloom, bird song, and greens of impossible brilliance – while the world is offering up this birthing time where all seems so very right, — I also find that it is a time when we are faced with endings, of having to say goodbye, and having to let go. This is a time of new birth, but at the same time it is also one of loss.
And this year, the dissonance between the hope that spring brings, and the endings that are also germane to this time feels particularly pronounced. We expect of course to mark the graduations of our young people who are stepping out and away, and we are so proud of them (Maya, Evan, Ricky, Nicki, Emma). But in addition — this year, there is a layering of other endings. We are having to say goodbye to the ANTS campus as we have known it, as the school continues its move to be embedded within Yale Divinity School. We are having to say goodbye and Godspeed to our dear, dear, Lang Hearlson family who we have treasured and who have given so generously of their knowledge, wisdom, faith and love to our community. We mark the retirement our beloved Brita Gill-Austern and standing with her on the cusp of what may come next.
And we stand with those among us who have lost loved ones this spring and with those who are facing difficult diagnoses that shake to the core.
And I do feel it is important to name that there are many in this beloved community who continue to feel a deeply distressed at our national landscape and who fear for the future.
There is dissonance. Nature maybe rejoicing but many of us do not feel fully able to join her for we find ourselves standing in places of loss and uncertainty, wondering at what is to come next.
Dissonance – it is in our gospel text for this morning as well. Thomas gives it word and then so too does Phillip.
Let me situate this passage for us, if I may.
Even though we are currently on the far side of the empty tomb, standing as Easter people, — the passage for this morning is located in the story a few days before that first Easter morning.
In our passage, Jesus is at table with his friends who he loves so much. He is sitting at table, the table that we remember as the communion table, and out of love for them Jesus is doing his best to prepare them for what is coming.
This section of John’s gospel is called the “farewell discourse,” but I think that is a bit of a misnomer. I think it should be called a “hang in there” discourse because it is not so much about Jesus saying “goodbye” as it is about Jesus summing up his teachings in order to capacitate the disciples to “hang in there” in the midst of the transition that is coming and the loss that they will feel.
Jesus tells them that he will be leaving. This is shocking news. For it has been so good to be with Jesus. In Jesus, God took on flesh dwelt among us, or abided among us, (which is another way of translating “to dwell” – one that I like better for it more fully connotes a sense of actively sharing in). Through the incarnation, God abided in our life and in doing so God brought forth healing and new life. Through Jesus, people were made whole: sight restored, life given, hope renewed, demons cast out and the vision of a future born. It has been so good, so very good!
But now — Jesus says, he is going way? All of this is ending. Jesus tells them not to be troubled by that news but how can they not be? Jesus tells them that they know the way to where he is going. But they protest that they do not! Dear Thomas (Thomas of the “I won’t believe till I can touch those wounds and see for myself fame”) retorts that he has no idea where Jesus is going nor the way in which to get there. Can’t you just feel Thomas’ anxiety and fear even? Jesus was to abide with them no more? They are being left alone?
At this point, Philip steps in and tries a different angle. If Jesus is going to the Father, then what if Jesus just shows them the Father. If they can see the Father than perhaps they too can make their way there, right?
Doesn’t your heart go out to them? Doesn’t your heart go out to all of us who find ourselves in this dissonant space where the hope and promise feel just out of reach? Where we find ourselves stuck in a place of loss, or anxiety – not knowing the Way we are to go?
Are any of you familiar with the movie The Matrix or with the books and also movie series The Hunger games? If you are you, may remember that there comes a key time in both of those movies where the lead characters Neo in the Matrix and Katniss in Hunger Games look at the world in front of them, and notice a ripple, a distortion, in what they see. For Neo it is when the black cat appears and then ripples back again. For Katniss it is when she looks up and sees a patch of the air that seems to be shimmering. These distortions, these ripples, reveals to them a sign, a doorway that enables them to realize that what they are seeing is not actually all that there is. Behind their perceived reality there is more and the deliverance they seek will come about through their entry into, their participation in that more.
I don’t know if the creator of The Matrix or The Hunger games, were well versed in the Gospel of John and our passage for today, but it is this ripple in reality, this shimmering, this mystery of more, that Jesus is pointing to and bidding his disciples abide in.
They may not be able to see it now, to perceive it now in that upper room on this their last night together. But in the days, and weeks to come they will come to see it. They will perceive it in the shimmering of the empty tomb. They will see it at the communion table when those disciples who were walking to Emmaus invite the risen Christ in to eat with them. Thomas will see it when he touches the wounds of Jesus and flings his heart open in trust. They will see this shimmering, this ripple in the surface of reality when the resurrected Jesus bids them eat a meal of fish and bread on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
This shimmering, this ripple in reality that Jesus bids us enter into, and abide within, is resurrection’s promise. Not just at the end of life but now within our lives. Resurrection completes incarnation and opens for us the Way of abiding in the “more” of God right now. Through incarnation, God abided in our life. Through resurrection, we now can abide in the life of God. Richard Rohr, Priest and theologian puts it this way “The Resurrection is not a one-time miracle that proved Jesus was God. Jesus’ death and resurrection name and reveal what is happening everywhere and all the time in God.”
And the way into this resurrection living? The way into the abiding presence of God now? It is the Way of Jesus – the Way of love. When we love, fully, radically and unconditionally, when we turn ourselves over in trust to the way of love, letting love fill our seeing, fill our thinking, fill our doing — when we love in the way that Jesus loved, we see that the very world around us is shimmering and doorways to new beginnings, new life, new hope a flung open all around us.
The disciples were so afraid that they did not know where Jesus was going and did not know the way to follow him. Turns out that was not the case at all. Turns out they knew the way because the Way was what they had become. They had lived it every day as they saw what love was doing in the lives all whom were drawn to Jesus by the power of love. Thomas and Philip were afraid, but they and the rest learned that they need not be. For in their walk with Jesus over those many years they had in fact learned from him. The shimmering ripple of reality that only once he perceived would now become their reality as well. They found the way and they became the Way.
May we trust that so it is and will be for us as well.
In closing, I’d like to share with you a remarkable experience that I had a week ago Thursday. It was a gorgeous spring morning. I was standing in St. Mary’s cemetery with a small gathering of family. We had come to lay to rest the ashes of a beloved father and grandfather. At the end of our brief service, the cemetery attendant reverently placed the box that contained the ashes of this beloved man deep into the earth. As the family slowly and with great tenderness filled that resting place with rich, deep black, top soil, my eyes were drawn up to the sweep of the beauty of the blooming bushes and newly leafed trees. It was all so staggeringly beautiful and for a moment, for a moment, it was like the entire world was shimmering.
Thank be to God, Amen.