5th Sunday of Easter
May 22, 2011
If you’ve been to a funeral lately, you’ve probably heard these words. They are so reassuring to those of us left behind when someone we love has died. They tell us that Jesus is waiting to receive our dear one, that there is always a room of our own provided in God’s kingdom for us who have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection and who have trusted that our lives are safe with God forever through God’s grace and mercy. This was a common image in Jesus’ day. Just as earthly kings had great roomy mansions, so the gods had palaces with room for all. Jesus starts with a familiar image, but he will use it to tell a different story.
These words assure us that we will also be received into God’s heavenly place where there is a room for us. This is because we already know the fullness of the Easter story. We know that Jesus will rise from his brutal death, visit his dear disciples and encourage them after the shock of the departure for which they were still unprepared. In the readings from John’s Gospel in the next few weeks, we will hear Jesus prepare them for this departure, his promise to return, and his blessing of them and promise of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who will come to teach and encourage them as they are on their own.
All of the readings we have heard since the Easter Story have been teaching us to “see” Jesus. The travelers on the road to Emmaus saw Jesus in the breaking of bread, but they already knew many of the promises, and had the experience of hearing the promises again through their own tradition as Jesus walked with them. Thomas asked to see the wounds of Jesus, demanding that Jesus reveal himself as the one who was crucified before Thomas was willing to accept him as Lord. Last week we heard that Jesus is the gate, the true opening into the fullness of God’s love because he was willing to lead through life and death himself. Today we learn to “see” Jesus as the Way of life and truth. Thomas asks the important question again: we don’t know where you are going (or why), so how can we know the way.
The people of the early church, called themselves “People of the Way.” A ‘way’ could be anything from a goat path to a main artery of pilgrimage, or path across the seas. In our expression, we talk about a ‘way of life.’ These people who Jesus addresses in our reading today, have been on the ‘way’ with Jesus, but they don’t really see it yet. Nor can they really understand the “way” of Jesus, which will be his final glory: his brutal end on the cross. The ‘way’ of Jesus is not through political triumph over the oppression of Rome, not through clever intellectual argument, not through splitting off into some ascetic sect that lives apart from the world. The way of Jesus is the way of God, who loved the world so much that he became a living, breathing part of it. He suffered the same end as all who are sacrificed to injustice, greed, security, and hatred. And he overcame the power of evil to make real life in the face of evil possible. Through is death we are healed, and through his resurrection we, too, have life forever.
Of course, his disciples will not understand now while he is still there with them, talking to them, assuring them that to know him is to know God. What will happen to him and to them in the coming days is historic, never happened before and never to happen again. It will change the world forever, splitting the promise from the fulfillment. Never again, after Jesus’ death and resurrection will anyone ever have to wonder who God is, if God is good, if God’s mercy is real and trustworthy. Because in Jesus’ resurrection, every promise, every hope ever made to humankind is answered with a resounding YES.
God’s mercy is real. God’s love is real. The truth is that God is trustworthy and grace and mercy are for all. It is the one thing in this world of shattered dreams and bungled opportunities that you can trust. It is the one thing in this world of violence breeding violence that you can believe. God’s love and mercy are the way to eternal life, the life you can live every day, right here, right now. You are loved. You are forgiven of everything that keeps you separate from God’s love. You can live with joy and faith and trust that there is room for you in God’s kingdom, now and after this life is over.
Believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, says Jesus. It is almost like a puzzle, circles within circles, as Jesus spins out the secret to all his miraculous signs and wonders. If you see me, he says, you have seen the Father – the God of Gods, the Lord of Heaven and Earth. And what I do, you will also do, because you have come to know us and trust that what I say is true. Jesus promises that this circle within circles includes us, all we need is to trust. When we ask in Jesus’ name, we are on the Way. When we trust that Jesus is the true face of God’s mercy and forgiveness, we are on the Way. When we trust that we are God’s hands and heart here on earth, God will give us what we need. What we know of God is revealed in the self-giving, self-emptying love of Jesus. It tells us, says one commentator, “that God has chosen not to be God without us.”
This story is our story. This reading, this text speaks to us. We never need to worry that God loves us, that God knows us, that God accepts us. The way is so simple and so complex at the same time. Circles within circles that tell us that God’s love for us never ends, that even death will not break the power of God’s love for us and presence with us. This is our Good News. We are on the Way.
Now may the peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.