5 Easter – May 14, 2017
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.
Jesus is saying goodbye. This is a rare exchange. This is Jesus at his most tender, his most compassionate, because he knows just what is to come — for him and for them.
Think about goodbyes in your own life. When you have to say goodbye, what do you say? Of course, it depends on the situation; if you are the one leaving or the one left behind; if this is forever or just a temporary separation; if the time is right, if it will ever be the right time, or the time came too soon.
We also work up to saying goodbye; steeling ourselves up for the grief that is to come; actively practicing denial; mapping out steps that hopefully will help us accept the inevitable. And part of how we say goodbye represents how we choose to live, who we were in the relationship that is now changed or is no longer, or how ready we are to even let go.
Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples. His words are first and foremost words of comfort and hope. Words of grief and farewell. Words meant to remind and affirm. Yes, things will never be the same after they leave this meal together and cross the Kidron Valley to the garden. Yet goodbyes do not erase the past. In fact, goodbyes call to mind the past so that a future is possible. That’s something that Jesus emphasizes in these parting words to his disciples.
“Believe in God and in me.” Trust in God and in me. In other words, hold on to the relationship we had because my leaving does not change what was. For the disciples, it will mean everything to remember what was because that is exactly what Jesus promises for their future — abiding with him, with God — intimate, at the bosom of both.
Jesus says goodbye with tenderness and truthfulness. Not every goodbye is like this, but we need to hear these words for what they are. They are not answers to everything that the disciples will face. They don’t explain away what will happen. They don’t suggest that any of this will be easy. They don’t rationalize what is to come. And, there is no reprimand on Jesus’ part when Thomas and Peter ask their questions, “How can we know the way?” and “Show us the Father,” because these are questions born out of the pain of confusion and give voice to the unsettledness of the heart.
Jesus’ goodbye gives the disciples permission to live; even a commission to love. That’s the thing about goodbyes. They are never really goodbyes — how you then live into the future has been changed forever because of the person who has left. Some goodbyes will have more of an effect on what lies before you than others. But often, those who say goodbye, those whom we let go, leave us with a charge to live differently.
This is at the heart of Jesus’ last words to his disciples. What will you do now? What will this mean now? What will you remember? What will carry you forward? Each of us needs to answer these questions on the other side of Easter.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Amen.
(based heavily on a blog by Karoline Lewis)