5 Easter – May 7, 2023
Our gospel reading this morning is one that is often read at funerals, and for good reason. It is comforting in the face of the death of a loved one. But this piece of scripture is not only about life after death, it is a text that has everything to do with our lives here and now.
The setting is Jesus’ farewell address at his last supper with his disciples. Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet and has explained to them what this means. He has foretold his betrayal by Judas, and Judas has slipped out into the night. He has told his disciples that he will be with them only a little while longer, and that where he is going, they cannot come. He has also foretold Peter’s imminent denial.
So, it’s no wonder the disciples are troubled. Their beloved teacher is leaving them, one of their own has turned against them, and the strong leader among the disciples is said to be on the cusp of a great failure of loyalty. It is as though the ground is shifting beneath their feet.
Jesus responds to the anxiety of his disciples by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me”. Jesus is calling them back to this fundamental relationship of trust and assures them that he is not abandoning them.
I’m going to take us back to the biblical Greek this morning. When Jesus speaks of many “dwelling places” or “rooms” in his Father’s house, he is speaking about relationship. The Greek monai is the noun form of the verb meno, usually translated “abide” or “abiding” in this Gospel. Jesus uses meno to describe close relationships. Monai is translated “a staying” which means either the act or the place.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” Jesus tells his sorrowing disciples. Meaning: 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 as he stands in the shadow of his own cross. You have a place with me, Jesus says. You have a place with God. You have a place.
Jesus is talking about relationship, as he often does. It’s not just about a physical dwelling place, it is about our relationship with Jesus. And Jesus then says, “And you know the way to the place where I am going.” And Thomas, wonderful Thomas, asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”. Thank you, Thomas for asking the question. Jesus tells us that he is the “way, and the truth and the life”. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Again, this is about relationship.
Philip then asks Jesus how they will know “the way.” In Greek the term hodos is the word for way, road, or highway. While the term can serve as an understanding for an actual road or way, hodos can also mean a journey or a trip. However, there is also a connotation that serves metaphorical purposes. Hodos can also represent the “way” or the “way of life” that connotes behavior. Jesus is speaking of a way of life – in Jewish circles the “way” was another term for a way of living one’s life. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth and the life”.
It’s about having a relationship with Jesus.
In the last two Sundays we’ve heard about Jesus walking with us on the road to Emmaus and as the Good Shepherd guiding us. Again, today, we hear of Jesus not only walking with us, but ahead of us. He goes ahead to prepare a place for us.
It was the custom at that time for travelers to send someone ahead to prepare the next shelter along the road so that when they arrived they might find comfort as well as shelter. Jesus, in this passage says that he is that person for us. He is the one just ahead of us on our life journey: he prepares the way for us. Even though the next step of our journey may seem scary, “I have gone before you to prepare a place for you.”
Perhaps we often reach a stage in our Christian life, in our faith journey, when we have found a very comfortable wayside shelter and decide we’d like to stop here for good. To give up the journey because where we’ve gotten to is far enough, “thank you very much.” But Christ urges us on. We are in relationship with God and each other. It is dynamic, always changes and we have the opportunity to grow in grace our entire lives. So, let’s continue on the road, on the way. Jesus is telling us: Don’t be afraid, for I will be the one walking by your side, and I will also go before you to prepare the way,” he says.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” Jesus tells his sorrowing disciples. Meaning: 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 as he stands in the shadow of his own cross. You have a place with me. You have a place with God. You have a place.
A grim setting. Real questions. 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. Amen.