Imagining The Destination and Not Knowing the Way

GOSPEL: John 14:1-14
Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Today we enter into the second half of the season of Easter. We had been staying still, soaking in the the moment of resurrection, the stories of Easter beginning with the women at the tomb, then the disciples hiding away in the locked room, and then the two walking down the road to Emmaus. Coming back to that resurrection day because of its singular significance for us as a touchstone of faith. 

But then last Sunday we heard about the Good Shepherd, the Christ who leads us through the dark valleys, who shows us the way to the other side of the dangers that await us in this world, and it wasn’t just a comforting image to think about. Good Shepherd Sunday moved us from the immediacy of the first Easter morning and the immediacy of our pandemic lockdown, moves us onto the next step of this collective journey were are on as citizens of a pandemic world and as followers of Jesus.

This middle Sunday of the Easter Season moved us along the story, and put us into the second half of the Easter Season… to the part of the story of faith about becoming an Easter community and Easter people… it sounds great, but just like for the disciples, it is also scary for us. 

Today, we hear a familiar passage from John, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…” This conversation between Jesus and his disciples comes to us from Maundy Thursday. Jesus has already raised Lazarus from the dead, and rode into Jerusalem hailed as a conquering Messiah. This conversation is first heard in moments before Jesus is eating the Last Supper with his disciples and friends. He is about to be arrested, put on trial and sentenced to death. This conversation happens in the shadow of the cross and just around the corner from the resurrection. 

And yet, Thomas (who will later demand to see the resurrected Jesus for himself) is wanting more information. He remembers following Jesus for the past 3 years, not really knowing where Jesus was going or what surprises might befall them, where the end goal might be. He is certain that he and the others won’t find their way on their own. 

Philip then comes out with it, he wants Jesus to show them the way, to fast-forward to the end and to show his followers the Father. 

The disciples, even after all they have seen of Jesus, all the miracles and healing, the exorcism and his preaching… they still have no idea where Jesus headed. They don’t know what Jesus is up to. They don’t know where they are headed, and they certainly don’t know how to get there. 

And yet the disciples seem to keep imagining the end goal, the destination, the point of arrival. They watched Jesus being greeted by hungry crowds wherever they traveled and they imagined celebrity. They watched Jesus debate and argue and put the religious authorities in their places, and they imagined power and influence. They see Jesus ride into Jerusalem like a king, and they imagine a throne room, a general commanding armies to victory. 

This whole time, the disciples have been thinking of the destination, imagining that possibilities of what this journey following Jesus bring them to, reward them with, change their fortunes to. 

This coming Friday, it will be 2 months since we last gathered in person for worship. Back then we were hopeful of being back together by Easter Sunday. How naive we were. We are now 5 Sundays on from Easter, and even with lots of conversation in the news and on social media about re-opening our world, we know that things aren’t just going back to the way they were before. The way ahead is mostly unclear with a lot of ideas and possibilities, but little certainty. Might we be still be tuning into the worship on Facebook for Canada Day? Will our Back to Church BBQ be a zoom gathering? Will will be lighting virtual candles for All Saints? Will Christmas Eve worship involve singing silent night from our respective front porches (if it isn’t too cold)?

We have come into a time where making plans is nearly impossible and every decision we took for granted before is now a calculation about risk and need, about timing and importance. Knowing what will happen and what will be possible for us next week or next month is simply beyond us. 

And so we stumble along, day to day, hour to hour, waiting for clarity and a path forward.

But more importantly, we hold onto some idea of a destination. We imagine the world as it used to be, or perhaps an even better version than that. We want to arrive at the moment when public gatherings and sharing public space are normal, unthinking activities again: Haircuts, grocery shopping, visits to the dentist, going to the movies, chats at the office water-cooler, dinner out with friends, backyard Barbecues with neighbours, airline flights where the biggest hassles are crying babies and people who insist in putting their seat back into your knees. And of course we imagine gathering together as a community of faith, greeting one another with handshakes and hugs, singing together again, sharing the peace, gathering at the table of the Lord, sharing coffee and cake after worship. 

“Jesus, we don’t know where this is going, how can we know the way?”

“Just show us the vision and we will be satisfied.” 

It isn’t surprising that this text is so often used at funerals. There is comfort in our visions of the destination. The great house where there is a room for us, the vision of our loved ones being welcomed into eternity is something to hold onto in the midst of crisis and grief. 

Yet, as Jesus speaks over the Last Supper to his disciples about the dwelling place of God with many rooms, he isn’t wanting us to imagine a giant mansion in the sky. In fact, it isn’t about the destination of our imagining at all. 

Where Jesus is going is to the cross. And the dwelling place of many rooms is not so much a mansion, but the opening up of creation itself… the opening up of us ourselves. The dwelling place of God will now be among mortals we hear at Christmas and incarnation. It fulfilled at Easter and in the resurrection. The creation that chose selfishness and therefore death in the fall, is about to be reunited with the creator who is making room within Godself. The creation that was once closed to new life will now be the home of God, and we will be welcome into the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

And the way to get there is not to imagine the destination… But rather through the One who is the Way, the One who shows us the Father, the One who will face separation and isolation, who will go over the brink of sin and death… this One… 

This Christ is our Way. 

This Christ our Truth. 

This Christ is our Life. 

This One is where we are going, this One brings us into God’s way. 

As the disciples moved on from the day of the empty tomb, they moved into a new Easter world. A world where the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection defined their community, defined their purpose, and defined their lives. They moved into a world where they didn’t always know what might be next for them, yet where God had opened God’s new dwelling, God’s welcome right there, wherever they were. 

And as we wonder what is next for us and when we might get to our imagined destination, Jesus reminds us that God has always been our way. 

That the place that Jesus has always been going to has been to us. 

Meeting us in the Word and showing us the Father. 

Welcoming us into the dwelling place of God in the waters of baptism. 

Showing us the way at the table of the Lord, and transforming us into the Body of Christ. 

Sure we don’t know when we will get back to work, or school, or shopping malls, or football games. And we don’t know when we might welcome our family and friends again into our homes and to our dinner tables…. 

But as the Body of Christ we have always been going to the same place… always to New Life in God. 

And how do we get here, what is our way?

Today Jesus reminds us again, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

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