5 Easter – May 10, 2020
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”
Now, I admit when I looked at our gospel for this Fifth Sunday of Easter and saw the reference to house and many dwelling places it took on a new meaning for me in the midst of our stay-at-home orders. Most of us want to get out of our house about now, and may not find these words comforting. Our hearts are indeed troubled, for many and varied reasons.
But, there is comfort in knowing that Jesus spoke these words as he prepared for his own death and he knew that his disciples would soon be overcome with grief. And there is a hint that Jesus’ words weren’t meant to offer physical security. As Jaime Clark-Soles reminds us, the promised “dwelling places” (the Greek is monai) are linked grammatically to the Johannine concept of “abiding” (meno). The dwelling places are the noun form of the verb that Jesus uses just a chapter later, when he tells the disciples, “Abide in me.”
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.” This is about relationship.
Jesus’ assurance may actually be hard to hear and often we don’t hear it. On the lips of anyone but Jesus it can sound sentimental or too much like a nervous attempt at consolation by someone who can’t bear the silence of anguish. We’ve all experienced the simple and well meaning “don’t worry” as less than comforting, especially when the person offering it has no clue of the actual reason for the worry that is presently eating up your stomach.
Jesus himself had a troubled heart when his friend Lazarus died. He wept. And when Judas was preparing to betray him, he wept again – only this time with such anguish that drops of blood spilled from his brow. Jesus knows trouble and he knows a troubled heart. But he also knows your heart and he knows mine.
We are living in a time of profound anxiety when our world is filled with things that threaten to undo us. My prayer is that we take time to remember what kind of peace Jesus gives to us. It’s the kind of peace that prevails in the thick of the battle. It’s the kind of peace that looks at death, sickness and illness and knows that they have ultimately been conquered in Christ’s own body. Martin Luther, whose own times were filled with pandemics and plagues, says it best in the words he penned for the hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God:
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
One little word shall fell him. That one little word, for Luther, was “liar”. You liar. It is the word of faith. The devil is a liar. And Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe also in me.” Jesus calls the disciples, he calls us, to find peace in his trustworthiness, despite the building storm clouds.
I also want to share some practical ways to navigate in the midst of this trying time, ways to tell the devil he is a liar, if you will. These come from Tony Morgan the founder of The Unstuck Group. He has found it helpful to:
Write down why you’re thankful. Write down 3 things, perhaps at the end of your day, every day, that you are thankful for. Something as simple as a sunny day, a conversation with your Mom on Mother’s Day, quality family time, a walk, whatever you are thankful for.
Stop watching cable news. Why not cut down the news to once a day, maybe once every other day. Watching it often breeds fear and anxiety. It will take us a while to get through this, it won’t happen overnight, not much is changing about COVID-19.
Which leads to reframing the time window. We are many months away from any sense of normal. When we begin to re-open, it will be with social distancing restrictions. Prepare yourself for a marathon, not a sprint.
Take a day off every week. For those who are working, shut everything down, don’t over Zoom it. Find a hobby, do something different to take your mind off of the challenges. Give yourself a little break.
Pray for other people. Take the focus off of yourself, it’s good for your mental and spiritual health. Pray for other people.
Get outside, take more walks. As the weather is getting warmer, take the opportunity to get outside. Enjoy the fresh air. If you’re able, walk around your neighborhood, your block, go to an open preserve or park and walk.
And let’s start dreaming about the future. Our world is forever changed by this pandemic, so let’s dream about a new way, a better way, of being in this world. What do you need to let go of?
Friday, May 8th, was the day on our Episcopal calendar that we remembered the great mystic, Julian of Norwich. She is well known for the book Showings and her statement “All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” These words are also often received as a “don’t worry, be happy” attitude when in fact, she meant it quite differently. Julian’s words tap into an incarnate Christ that enters into the fullness of human pain, suffering, and anxiety, breaking through rock bottom and offering a glimpse of the fullness of time where indeed, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. There is no dodging of pain or fear in her book.
Lady Julian’s voice is a voice for those that have known pain, doubt, sin, and frustration. Her writings offer an image of God that is imminently close to us in the midst of all of the contours of our lives. Holding us and assuring us of God’s love and abiding presence. A recurring theme in her writing is the notion that however we suffer, and however we sin, we are safe in God and with God. (thank you Ben Capps)
So, the devil is a liar and that one word of faith will fell him. Jesus offers himself, it’s about relationship. The way is personal – Jesus is the way. The truth is personal – Jesus is the truth. The life is personal – Jesus is the life. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Love will find a way. Jesus has you, he’s got you. Amen.