How can we know the way? Sermon for Easter 5 – Adel parish church.
John 14: 1 – 14
We’ve always loved walking. When our children were young we discovered some walk books by Jack Keighley. Wonderful walks, clear instructions and beautiful hand-drawn maps. And the best bit…his little notes pointing out interesting things we’d otherwise have missed. These reached new heights one spring morning above Gunnerside when we read…”This old stone trough has a small resident population of water beetles, and a large seasonal population of tadpoles”…we looked in – and sure enough, there were the tadpoles!
We’ve done that walk so many times now, we don’t need the book, but last year we found one of his walks we’d never done and set off with excitement. We were soon struggling…fences, stiles, buildings weren’t where they should be…and we realised the books are 30 years old. We were in the same place…but the landscape had changed…
That’s true for Thomas and Philip in our gospel reading. On the night before he dies, Jesus tries to prepare the disciples for life without him: for a life of building his church without him physically present. He tells them not to worry about the future because he is going ahead of them – and they know the way.
But Thomas says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
They’ve just got used to following Jesus…are realising that he’s the messiah – the one sent by God. They’re beginning to graps his message – of love, forgiveness, putting the last first…
But however it happens, they expect a Messiah who wins, who defeats God’s enemies. Now Jesus says he’s going to be betrayed and killed – and he’s just letting it happen. The whole landscape of belief has changed…how can they possibly know the way?
I think that’s a feeling we recognise at the moment. We’re in our homes, we’re with immediate family, we only go to local shops. In some ways our lives are all too familiar, and yet the whole landscape has changed.
When this began, I thought about the inconvenience, I worried how long it might last, I wondered about summer holidays, our children’s travel plans…but I pictured eventually a return to the life we knew. That seemed ok – endure, and it will pass.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious though, that life after lockdown will not look like life before. And it’s unnerving, frightening even. We don’t know where we’re going – so how can we know the way?
Perhaps part of our problem – in the affluent West at least – is that we’ve generally forgotten about the precarious nature of life. We’ve persuaded ourselves that humans can control everything…that economies can keep growing. We talk of ‘beating’ diseases as if we believe one day we’ll ‘beat death’.
We know about inequalities, about climate change…we support food banks, we recycle…but we persuade ourselves that these problems can be tackled within life as it is…with minor changes… I think we’re used to knowing our destination.
COVID 19 has turned all that upside down. It’s revealed the scandalous inequalities in society, in a way I hope can’t be ignored. But it’s also shown that ‘good’ things at the heart of society – travel, holidays, shared sport, music, theatre, worship – will not necessarily always be there in the form we know. We do not know where we are going – so how can we know the way?
What does our faith have to say in such times? Well first, perhaps we can understand as never before how the disciples felt! But also that faith is not about easy answers, about knowing exactly where we’re going – but about trusting the one who walks alongside us.
Philip says to Jesus – “show us the Father and we will be satisfied”… show us some divine vision…show us our destination, show us how it ends, then we won’t mind the present difficulties…
But Jesus replies, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father…I am the way.”
So if we want to find our way – we’re told not to look for God reaching in to our world and sweeping our problems away – but a God who joins us in our problems, who loves, weeps, laughs, forgives, serves – even when this leads to death, the ultimate removal of life as we know it.
And a God who shows us that if we follow him to that death, for us perhaps the death of our way of life, we will see that somehow it leads to new life…even if we’re still discovering what that new life looks like.
Does that tell us that the Christian way through this is to live it the best way we can? Perhaps we have to face the loss, maybe even to let go of things we thought would last forever…to lament and grieve, but then to work out how to live as followers of Christ in the new world that emerges.
Jesus said “whoever has seen me has seen the Father…I am the way…no one comes to the Father except by me.”
As I read somewhere…”What we know of God in Jesus Christ, is that God has chosen not to be God without us.”
If Jesus is the way, then the way to God is a way that has to be found through living ordinary human lives. And if Jesus is the way – then we are now the way. We, the ordinary, anxious, bewildered humans who are his followers.
The good news is that, unlike those walk books of ours, Jesus doesn’t go out of date, because he’s a person, not a set of instructions. If we go back to his teaching, stories, examples of weeping, laughing, loving, caring, forgiving…and apply those to the new life that is emerging…we have hope that we will begin, together, to find our way.