The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A, 2017 – Acts 7:50-55; 1 Peter 2; John 14:1-14
Thomas says to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Thomas is a man for our times. He thinks like we do. Eight days after the resurrection, he refuses to believe Jesus is risen unless he sees the evidence with his own eyes. “Unless I see the nailmarks in his hands and put my hand in his side….” He is perhaps the first historical critic, seeking the historical Jesus behind the disciples’ witness.
And today here he is again, asking the question we might ask. “I am going to prepare a place for you,” Jesus says, “and to the place where I am going you know the way.” Lord, Thomas says. Master. With all due respect, we do not know where you are going. How can we possibly know the way?
Thomas is one of us. He has his Iphone out, he’s clicking on Google maps…where did you say you’re going? Give me the destination and I’ll tell you how to get there. He can find anything; he can get you there by the best and quickest route; he can bypass all traffic jams. He just has to enter the address. With the right information, Thomas can get anywhere he wants to go. This is our life. We are the information generation and we have literally at our fingertips everything we need to get us where we want to go. With a tap of the thumb, I can tell you the way. Thomas would have loved the iPhone.
But Jesus renders our phones useless.
Look up from your phones, Jesus says. The way is not there. The truth is not there. Look up from your phones. Your life is not there.
Jesus invites us to radically reorient our lives.
I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.
Here is your life, Jesus says. It is here, in me.
It is a bold thing to say, so bold that it got Jesus killed; so bold that it is still raising hackles 2000 years later. I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Thomas is right that the disciples do not know where Jesus is going. For Jesus is going to the Father. No one has ever seen God, John says at the beginning of the Gospel. God is a destination beyond our ken. God is the destination, the end of all our seeking, by definition the source and font of all things, of all that gives meaning to our lives. In the cataracts, the psalmist says, we hear his voice, and in the motion of the stars; in the monsters of the deep, that great Leviathan and in the mystery of the universe, great burning lives of the stars reaching us now as pinpricks of light in the darkness hundreds of thousands of years after they are no more. The grandeur of God whispered in this way in the things that are seen, these intimations of eternity. God is a thing beyond our ken, and the whole universe thrums with the echo of his name.
Lord, Philip says, show us the Father. Jesus says to him, “Have I been with you all this time and you have not known me, Philip?”
Here in this one, here in the flesh, the glory of God. And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.
Today’s Gospel is often read at funerals. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
It is read, often, as a word of comfort. Let not your heart be troubled, even in the face of this death. There is a place prepared for you.
It is read as comfort, and this is not wrong. But it is not nearly enough.
Because this Gospel is a trumpet blast. It announces the earthquake.
And the earth was shaken and the rocks were split and the tombs were opened, Matthew’s gospel says at the moment of Jesus’ death. I go to prepare a place for you: this is a word to shake the earth. This is a word that announces the act of the God who formed the universe, who spoke and there was light.
This is a word that sounds with an ancient and eternal power.
I go to prepare a place for you—and the rocks are split and the tombs are opened and even the gates of hell see the light of life. Fiat lux. Let there be light. In this man like us we hear the eternal word of God, that word that is for life. In the flesh the Word comes to us; in the flesh the Word walks with us and teaches us and heals us; in the flesh the Word that was in the beginning with God goes to the Father.
This is the wonder.
This man like us is the Word; this Word goes in our flesh to the Father. And in his going he remakes the world.
This is the grace.
For where is it that he goes? What is his way? As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, the Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life. Jesus goes to the Father by way of the cross.
Jesus speaks to Thomas and Philip and all his disciples in today’s gospel on the night of the Last Supper. Judas has just gone out into the night. Peter’s denial looms. Death is all around. Lord we do not know where you are going, Thomas says. Where is Jesus going? He is going to the cross. He is going to the place where he will lay down his life for his friends. As he took off his robe at supper with his friends his robe will be taken off him. Naked he will be lifted up on the cross as naked he bent down to wash his disciples’ feet.
Jesus goes today to wash our feet. He goes to this death that is ours, this night of the soul, this betrayal, this denial, this God-forsakenness that is ours, this muck with which we have covered over the beauty of the world.
I am at long last reading Dante. There is a lot of mud in Dante’s hell. People lie in it, swim in it, are thrown into it headfirst, with their feet kicking in the air. And the poet has it right. We have covered over our lives with muck.
Jesus goes to wash us clean. He goes to the cross so that we may see again the glory of God rising over the world, full of grace and truth. I am the Way and the Truth and the Life—this way that is love, this truth that is beauty rising again in the flesh of Christ over our lives, this life that is God’s.
His Way is the cross. On that cross he takes us in his arms and lifts us up again to God. I go to prepare a place for you. And it is not just that the cross is his way. On that cross Jesus offers himself to be our Way. Our way, our truth, our life. Our life given back to us in his dying, our life washed clean, no longer obscured, our eyes lifted up to God again on his cross.
No one has ever seen God. The only-begotten Son, he has made him known.
I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. These are the words of Christ’s self-offering. These are the words that point the way to the place we long to go. I will take you to myself, Jesus says. Christ crucified and risen takes us home: our life with God now and not without him, our eyes free now to look up, our ears free to hear in the world all around us the deep sound of God’s glory.
There is a children’s book by Margaret Wise Brown: The Runaway Bunny.
It is a good book for this Gospel, and it is a good book for Mother’s Day. In it the little bunny tells his mother that he is going to run away.
So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”
“If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you, for you are my little bunny.”
“If you run after me,” said the little bunny, “I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you.” “If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his mother, “I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”
There is no place the little bunny can go that is too far away from his mother’s love.
She is with him—her heart is with him—always, no matter where he goes. She waits for him, she seeks him, she holds out her arms to him when finally he comes home.
And this is like the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Where can I go from your Spirit? The psalmist says.
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
And settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
And your right hand shall hold me fast. (Psalm 139)
Darkness—our darkness, the distance we have traveled from God—darkness is not dark to you. You walk with us even in our darkness as light.
In Jesus, the arms of God outstretched, to find us where we are, to bring us home.