Today’s gospel reading is well-known for its words of profound comfort and hope – indeed, it offers such comfort and hope that it is often heard at funeral services – those moments when people feel particularly desolate and lost.
But … as well as offering comfort and hope, today’s gospel reading is a challenge to those of us who profess the Christian faith in the 21st century.
Jesus is preparing his closest followers for his imminent departure from them. Not surprisingly – they are confused.
Jesus says he is going to his Father’s home to prepare a place for them. He also says that he will then come and take them to himself – so that where he is, they may be also.
Such comfort – such hope –
life – as God meant it to be –
life – unconfined from the brief time we spend in this mortal world.
The risen Jesus has returned to his Father’s home – to prepare a room for each of us. And – even better – when the time comes, we can expect no less than the risen Jesus himself waiting to receive us.
Having shared this message of comfort and hope, Jesus goes on to tell his already confused disciples that they already know the way to the place where he is going.
This is too much for Thomas! The same ‘doubting’ Thomas we thought about a couple of weeks ago, voices the concerns of all by saying: Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?
And then Jesus says those well-known words:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Despite their familiarity, the importance of these words should never be underestimated.
That small, two-word formula (I am) is not just a present tense verb of ‘being’. I am is the ineffable name of God himself, as revealed in the Old Testament!
Today’s gospel contains just one of a series of I am sayings that appear in St John’s gospel. Jesus uses God’s name as his own, and adds a life-giving metaphor.
At different times in John’s gospel, Jesus says:
- I am – the bread of life;
- I am – the light of the world;
- I am – the good shepherd;
- I am – the door of the sheepfold;
- I am – the resurrection and the life;
- I am – the true vine;
- and most revealing of all – before Abraham was – I am
All of these I am statements, and particularly the one we encounter in today’s gospel reading, reveal to us a unity – a unity between the light of the world who is the way, and the truth, and the life, and the Father who sent him to redeem this world.
God has acted in Jesus Christ on behalf of the whole world. What God did in Jesus Christ, God did for everyone – absolutely everyone.
Even when John speaks of the inherent judgement in Christ’s second coming, he concludes:
Those who do what is true come to the light so that it may be clearly seen that their works have been done in God.
Yes – there is a unity between the light of the world who is the way, and the truth, and the life, and the Father who sent him to redeem this world.
- Jesus is the human face of God.
- Jesus is all of God that we humans have the capacity to comprehend.
- Jesus has come among us as one of us – for all of us!
- To know the Son is to know the Father – in this great truth lies true universal unity and tolerance.
- The unity of the Son and the Father is such that even the words that Jesus speaks are not his, but those of his Father.
- Jesus is God’s own self-expression – we even call him God’s Word!
Today, we need the truth of these comforting and hopeful words more than ever.
As we await the government’s decision regarding our freedom to step outside our homes once again, we are also called to celebrate a significant moment in the history of our nation.
Today, the country is marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the day when Victory in Europe was declared. We are called to celebrate the moment when a terrible, tyrannous regime was overthrown and defeated.
At that moment – 3pm on 8 May 1945 – this nation celebrated.
The curtain of fear was lifted and a new age dawned.
No one knew what that new age would contain, but there was a sense of optimism that it might never again involve the brutal horror of Nazism.
Of course, those of you who were alive at that time know that you were not stepping into a perfect future.
You know the shortcomings and deprivations, the continued brutality and prejudices that have marked out the shameful moments of the last seventy-five years.
But … you probably also remember that feeling of relief and hope, comfort and joy, that swept the nation on that day seventy-five years ago.
Later today, our current Prime Minister promises a significant statement about how we might be moving forward, despite the ongoing threat of a ruthless virus that shows no mercy.
For many of us, there may be the hope of being able to meet family and friends again; for others there will be the stark realisation that, as we have no friends and family, our isolation will probably go on – just as it was before the pandemic struck.
For some the talk of a new normal, is exciting; for others there is the profound fear that that just means repeating all the same mistakes over and over again.
Whatever lies in our future, as a nation and as a world, it is important that we celebrate the moment when one human folly was finally brought to a close – but we need to participate in that celebration in the light of today’s gospel reading.
Jesus was presenting the ultimately exciting, comforting and hopeful future to his disciples – he laid before them a future that was beyond their imaginations to comprehend.
That is where we are. Everybody knows that things have changed – what is more, many things have changed for the better!
Now let us run with that.
Let us trust that God’s love for humanity is in no way diminished – let us really embrace that truth – let us go forward, living our lives as re-energised disciples of the risen Christ.
During these few weeks of lockdown, many of us have found levels of resilience, resolve and resolution we never knew we had.
For those who remember the first VE Day celebrations, the spirit of ‘the blitz’ or the ‘Dunkirk’ spirit has been rekindled.
Let us now use that energy and go forward – let us prove that Christ’s sacrifice for us is valued – let us follow the risen Christ on our journey towards his heavenly home, allowing him to be our Way, our Truth and our Life.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!