Tag Archives: easter

Easter that has not felt like Easter

John 17:6-19
Looking up to heaven, Jesus prayed, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

It is the last Sunday in the season of Easter, for 7 weeks have been moving through the great season of celebrating the resurrection. 50 days of rejoicing. Yet for the second year now, Easter has not felt like Easter. Paused have been the normal spring activities. Yard sales and graduations, flower planting at the church and congregational picnics. Drive around most neighbourhoods these days, and you might see friends and neighbours skirting public health orders by visiting on the city sidewalk just off of private property, or families having mother’s day visits in lawn chairs in city parks. 

Certainly, celebration, feeling joy, living that Easter life hasn’t been front and centre this year. Just a few days ago we passed a grim milestone in Manitoba. 1000 deaths from COVID-19. A number that is hard to fathom for our province. 

As we land on this 7th Sunday in Easter, and for 3 weeks now, we have been making the transition from being witnesses to the resurrection of Christ to becoming Easter people. From Jesus’ image of the vine and branches, to the reminder that God chose us and not the other way around, God has been making us ready to become new community of disciples.

Today, Jesus implores God the Father that his followers be protected and cared for, remembered and given a place. And even if the prayer is just as much for Jesus’ followers to hear as it is for God the Father’s ears, it maybe doesn’t exactly feel like God has been remembering us these days. In fact, it is pretty easy to wonder what exactly is going on in the world and to ask what God is doing with us?

The disciples know this feeling we are having. They know exactly what it is like to be living in a world fraught with danger. Jesus is praying this prayer in the garden of gethsemane, just moments before he is about to be arrested. The disciples know that Jesus is in trouble with the crowds, religious authorities and police. They also know that he has been talking about dying lately. 

As Jesus prays to the father, he prays out of concern for his friends. While it sounds like he wants his father to care for them, to make sure they are okay, his prayer is rooted in the knowledge of what they are about endure. The hardest 3 days of his life and theirs is about occur, Judas and the soldiers are already on the way to arrest him. 

Yet, here we are on the 7th week of Easter, and we know the story. We know what is going to happen, we know the path that Jesus will walk, we know what the disciples will do and how they will indeed fall apart in the midst of it all. We know that Peter will deny Jesus, we know that the women will run away from the empty tomb afraid, that the disciples will not recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus, that Thomas will not believe, that Peter again will not be able to express out loud his love for Jesus.  

And yet, this group of disciples that falls apart and fails at every turn in a scary world is the group of people that is entrusted with the message, they are made to be the church, the first community, the first group of believers that will embody, that will become the very Body of Christ still in the world, even after the Ascension. 

So Jesus prays for them knowing both what they will endure but also who and what they will become. 

Still, here were are disciples who know the story and yet are still in danger of falling apart. Our gatherings have not been what are are used to or what we need them to be for over a year, and though it feels like there might be an end in sight, we don’t know exactly when. 

And we also know that the group, the community we were 14 months ago is not the community we are not, and nor will it be the community who finally gathers back together again. Some of us will not and cannot return, And some of us will be new and unknown. And all of us will be made different by this experience. 

And then of course, all the problems we faced before the pandemic of perceived decline, transition to the 21st century along with a healthy dose of uncertainty will still be there for us to contend with, and now without knowing yet what the effects of the pandemic will have on us. 

As much as the disciples with Jesus in the garden need to hear Jesus pray on their behalf, we also need to hear again Jesus’ intercession on behalf, we need to hear that reminder that Jesus has walked with us this far and that we will not be abandoned in the chaotic events and swirling winds of change to come. 

50 days after Easter Sunday after Pentecost, the story which we will hear next week when the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples in tongues of fire, the disciples remained small scared group of followers. 

And yet, yet, somehow in the mist of all that they experienced, they were changed. They were changed by the Christ who forgave their fear and denial, the Christ who met them at the empty tomb and said their name, the Christ who revealed himself in the breaking of the bread, the Christ who reached out his hands to a doubting disciple, Jesus who still made these flailing, uncertain, fearful disciples the ones entrusted to be the church, to be his body and to proclaim the good news. 

This prayer that Jesus prays to the Father just before his arrest, does not turn out the way the disciples or we might expect. Things were still dangerous and scary and difficult. 

Yet, that small band of followers still managed to become the early church community, the followers of Jesus that spread across the Roman Empire, and then eventually across the world. And though the church has not been perfect and made many mistakes, though the world has still been a dangerous and scary place at times, the Gospel promise is still proclaimed. The body of Christ has continued to gather and continued to tell Christ’s story, to tell God’s story, to tell of God’s story become our story. And generations have heard it. 

And this Easter community of fearful failing disciples has become a global community of Jesus’ followers enduring for 2000 years. 

Now, as we consider again what it means to be followers of Jesus, as we hope for good news and promise that God is caring for us in the midst of trying times… we know that God has been transforming God’s people, God has been transforming us since the beginning. From the manger to the cross, from the empty tomb to tongues of fire, from the ACTS of the Apostles to the Early church councils to the reformation to now. God has been making us ready to be God’s easter community. 

In the small acts of mercy and new life of this past year, in neighbours looking out for each, in phone calls, text messages and emails sent to friends on our minds, in gifts left on doorsteps, drive-by birthdays for young and old, mother’s day park visits, in staying home and visiting family over zoom instead of gathering for the holidays, in booking vaccine appointments and encouraging our hesitant family members to do the same.  In a myriad of unexpected ways God has been opening us to our neighbours, God has been placing signs of new life in our midsts, God has been making us Easter people, even as feel like a scared failing group of disciples.

So even in in the midst of an Easter that has not felt like Easter for the second year, even when the world feels fraught with danger all around, with a pandemic that seems to want to push us to crumble as a community, God is Christ is walking with us, Jesus is interceding on our behalf, and God the Father has been transforming us, in the most unexpected of ways. 

Like those first disciples who seemed the unlikeliest group to be entrusted with the mission of God’s Church, God is calling us into the same mission. God is turning us, even separated and apart, into the bearers of the good news for the sake the world, the ones called to proclaim in whatever way we can to the risen the christ. 

This Easter season we are again transformed into Easter people, even when it seems hard to believe. God is preparing us to be a new people, a new community of faith, to be the Body of Christ for the sake world. 

You did not choose me but I chose you

John 15:9-17
…You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

As we push into this back half of the Easter season, we continue to be prepared by the risen Christ to be an Easter community. Now that we have lived through the Three Days, come to empty tomb, and been met by the risen Christ, God shaping and transforming us into a new creation, into a new family of faith, a community tasked with being Christ’s Body given for the the sake of the world. 

We continue hearing Jesus speak to his disciples from the moment of the last supper, words that began with the image of the vine and the branches last week. Today, Jesus is giving final instructions. Preparations for leaving. Jesus is giving his disciples and friends some last words to live by as a community. 

As the disciples eat their last meal with Jesus, and as he leaves this commandment to love one other, their whole world was changing. 

3 years prior, they had been called to this ministry by the wandering teacher and rabbi. They had followed him around Galilee as he preached, performed miracles, exercised demons and met with the crowds. But lately Jesus was clashing more and more with the religious authorities, he was talking about dying, he was describing a new future for his community of followers… one where they took on more responsibility. 

And now, now in Jerusalem, Jesus has come riding in like a king. He had been met by the cheering crowds but tensions were high. And the sentiment of the city was changing. The authorities seemed to be planing something.

This was a world of danger. This was a world of risk. And this community of Jesus’ followers was under threat. Their little community was in danger of crumbling. It would be easy to just abandon ship. It would be easy to run and hide. It would be easy to just look for themselves and run. 

This frightened and scared group of followers was who Jesus was talking to. All the talk of a command to love, the reminder that they were his friends, that they were chosen by God. Jesus was worried that his followers might crumble and fall apart under the tense pressure of Holy Week. And he was right. Judas betrayed him. The rest fell asleep in the garden, Peter denied him in the courtyard and the rest fled.

Certainly, we know what it is to live in a world surrounded by threats and danger. We know what it is to run the risk fo crumbling. 

With our communities trying to do what is best for our community and for our neighbours, we have been running the risk of crumbling. We have been in danger by forces outside of us and beyond our control. The reality of our own fragility,  the possibility that our gathering might cause sickness and death has been held up to us nearly daily for year. 

Still, long before the pandemic, churches have been facing the threat of decline, the loss of social pressures that helped folks just show up at our doors and become members. 

And we haven’t been very good at dealing with this squeeze and this pressure. We have often taken the same routes the disciples have. We have hidden ourselves away at times, we have pulled back from community when things were hard, we have even denied knowing Jesus when it become uncomfortable to admit that we did. 

And like Jesus’ disciples, we have started to crumble and fall apart. The church in our time has not always been a shining example of love for each other and the world that Jesus describes today. 

So with his disciples frightened and afraid, with the church of 2021 frightened and afraid, Jesus reminds all of his disciples what this community is about and what it means to belong to one another and to belong to God. 

As Jesus leaves these final instructions with the disciples, he isn’t scolding them for their fears and struggles of the present. Jesus is speaking about what is to come. Jesus is preparing them for a new future and a new reality. Abide in me as I have abided in you. Love each other as I have loved you. Bear good fruit, just as I have born fruit in you. Treat one another as friends, just as you are now my friends. 

And then Jesus speaks one brief and short sentence. Perhaps the most important of all the instructions:

You did not choose me, but I chose you.

Hear the words of Jesus again:

You did not choose me, but I chose you.  

Jesus reminds the disciples of this key and important truth of God’s mission in the world. God is the one doing the choosing. All along the way, as Peter tries to choose a different less dangerous path for Jesus. And Judas tries to get Jesus to show his true power by having Jesus arrested, hoping the Messiah will fight back and topple the Roman rule. As the temple authorities, Romans and the crowds try to gain power and control by putting Jesus, and therefore God, to death on the cross. Jesus chooses a different path. God chooses to face sin and death head on. And God chooses life. God chooses now. 

Just like the disciples, we are tempted to crumble apart in the face of adversity. We are temped  look out only for ourselves, to pull back from our sibling in Christ to protect ourselves.

Yet, in the midst of the dangers around us, in the midst of the struggles we face, the uncertainty we face, Jesus is calling us to remember who are. To remember who God has named us to be. 

Jesus is reminding us that God has chosen us, we did not choose God. God has chosen us to be an Easter people. People claimed and gathered from the foot of the cross and taken to the empty tomb. People who might want to hide away, but to whom Jesus has appeared and given us peace. 

Jesus has chosen us even in locked away homes, even when we cannot see one another face to face, Jesus has binds us together even with online worship, zoom gatherings, text messages and phone calls. Jesus makes us one body, though scattered through the shared word of Good News that we hear together week after week. 

It might feel like it is all we can do but crumble in face of a third wave, more lockdowns and a promises end of the pandemic that just doesn’t seem to be getting closer. But Jesus’ disciples have been here before, they have faced all but certain ends to their community….

And the risen Christ has carried them through. The risen Christ has called them from their hiding places, locked doors and graves. This God of New Life that knows and claims us, binds back together in love. Not a commandment to follow, but a naming of the thing that holds us together. God’s love for us, and our love for each other. 

Today, God reminds us again, when we most need to hear it: You did not choose me, but I chose you.

Abiding in the Branches

GOSPEL: John 15:1-8
Jesus said: 1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Abide in me as I abide in you.

Here we are into month 14 of this global and pandemic, while it feels like we are in much the same place that we found ourselves one year ago, so much has taken place during this past year. 

This Easter season has again been a journey begun in Lent, Lent 2020 that is. And when we gathered at the foot of cross on Good Friday and then again the empty tomb on Easter morning with the women who were afraid, our journey barely paused for moment. 

These 14 months have dragged us through much, through world changing times, even as so much of it has been about staying in place and keeping to ourselves. 

In this back half of our second pandemic Easter, Jesus lays out this metaphor of the vine and branches for us. And today, we need as much as ever to hear Jesus’ promise again… the invitation to Abide. 

To stop, to gather ourselves, to lay aside our fretting and worrying, to take a breathe and simply abide.

Abide in me as I abide in you.

This 1st century metaphor of a grape vine may be an image mostly lost on our 21st century ears. While there are certainly many green thumbs out there, grape vines are fairly uncommon in wintery Manitoba. I know because I remember them being uncommon in wintery Edmonton where I grew up. I know because many summers growing up, the back walls of my parent’s house bore the unusual sight of heavy, leafy, green vines growing up makeshift trellises, tended to by my father. Dutifully grown, and pruned each spring and summer. Harvested and picked clean each fall. Carefully wrapped and buried each winter only to be resurrected each spring. 

So unusual were the grapes, that my kindergarten class took a walking field trip to our house to see them. So did other gardeners come from time to time, interested in seeing these uncommon grape vines. 

Now the thing that almost all the first century folks listening to Jesus would have known about grape vines is that they are complicated plant systems. The vines twist and tangle up around grape trellises to find sunlight and air. The branches grow big leaves which protect the fruit from the sun and the rain. Other branches grow to make structure and support space for the fruit to the grow in sheltered areas between vines and branches. The grapes grow in luscious bunches when they find the combination of supported vine, protected shade and space. 

The vine, the support systems, the branches, the leaves all work together in symbiotic harmony to produce fruit. Unlike apples or some other fruit bearing trees and bushes that just seem to grow something no matter the conditions, grape vines need attention and care, they need all the parts of the plant working together towards the common purpose of growing fruit. 

And the branches that don’t work in the system need to be pruned back, even sometimes the branches that do work need to be cut back in order to keep the fruit growing. 

And it is this image of the complicated, fragile plant system that Jesus choose to describe the community of the church. If Jesus were Canadian he would describe a well coached hockey team, with all team members working toward the common goal… the players who weren’t getting cut from the team or traded away. 

The branch who does not abide withers away. 

Abide in me as I abide in you.

Whether it is a withering branch, a hockey player cut from a team, or a church members feeling disconnected from church community… it can feel a little rough to consider being cast out from a community from which we think we should belong. 

A branch withering on its own maybe hits a little too close to home these days. We get what it means to feel like we are withering way having cut pruned from the other branches and vine that we thought we belonged to. 

And on the other hand, we also know of the branches who will not abide. Those who insist on striking out on their own, those who will not abide working in harmony with the community, those who would rather be cut off than be beholden to system working together for the common good. 

Either way the effect is much the same, being cut off from community is life draining. Both for the branch who cannot abide or will not abide, but also for the system as it must heal and regrow to compensate for the loss. 

Abide in me as I abide in you.

And so it feels almost harsh that Jesus seems to suggest that not abiding is cause to get cut off by the vinegrower. Yet, Jesus is not being prescriptive, Jesus is not suggesting condemnation for those who aren’t getting along. 

Jesus is describing what happens to the branch that leaves the plant system. The branch will not abide, so the branch withers and then the branch is thrown into the fire and burned. Immediately our minds turn to the medieval visions of hellfire and brimstone. 

And yet to Jesus’ ancient hearers, hell would not be the place that they would be thinking of. 

Instead, they would imagine the cleansing fire pit of agricultural land. The place where the pruned branches, the branches who will not abide are reclaimed. Reclaimed, found again,  and brought back into the fold, into the plant system. 

These burned up branches are reclaimed and turned into new life, sprinkled as fertilizer onto gardens and vineyards, or added to compost as key sources of nutrients. 

Even the branches who will not abide, the branches that are burned up are still found and reclaimed by the vinegrower and put the purposes of new life. 

The withered branches are not left or abandoned or punished by the vinegrower, but instead are brought back into new life. 

And this complicated system of vines, of branches for leaves, branches for support and branches for fruit, are joined by branches for fertilizer ash. In the vines and branches, the community of the church there is room for all, for all kinds of gifts and skills to join in the work of producing fruit for the sake of the world, for all kinds of people who work in the midst of community and those who have trouble abiding. God vine grower pursues them all and finds a places for in the community that produces life. 

This is good news for us who are withering away these days. Those who of us who are having trouble abiding alone. Those of us who have forgotten how to live in systems and communities tasked with working for new life, for life for the sake of the world. 

That even when life feels as though it is draining from our bodies, God is the One seeking us out, finding and reclaiming us for the sake of the kingdom, putting back into the business of growing into new life. 

As we enter into yet another withering lockdown, as we contemplate our ever shifting and uncertain future, as we imagine what comes next in this topsy, turvey world, as the life feels as though it slowly draining away from us… God is busy at work, pruning, watering, tending and finding a place for us to grow into new life. 

God is making us ready to grow into new life when the time comes, making us ready for life in community, for being part of a system of vines, branches, leaves and fruit… and fertilizer once again. God is preparing us for life in together in the church, for being part of a worshipping, baptizing, word proclaiming, meal gathering, learning, growing, music making, praying, serving, community of faith once again… soon. 

But today, as we wait and wonder for God’s future… Jesus says:

Abide in me as I abide in you.

There Is No Going Back To Normal Or the Glory Days – This is the Beginning

GOSPEL: John 17:1-11
1After Jesus had spoken these words [to his disciples], he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you… 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (Read the whole passage)

Today, we arrive at the seventh and final Sunday in the season of Easter. Easter 2020 must be, without a doubt, the most memorable Easter in our memories. “We are living through history” has been an oft’ repeated phrase of the pandemic era. And our Easter journey as people of faith has not been that far off from our lived reality. Hiding out in locked rooms for fear of the outside world is an essential Easter experience. Having no frame of reference, no experienced story to tell that makes sense of our new world is an essential Easter experience. And being prepared as disciples of Jesus for an unknown future is an essential Easter experience. 

As we prepare to the flip the page on Easter with Pentecost Sunday next week, we slide between Easter realities. In John’s gospel we slide back to Holy Week where Jesus prays for his followers just as he is about to go the cross. In Acts, we hear Jesus and the disciples having a conversation about what happens next to this fledging Easter community. 

The disciples come to Jesus with a request to go back, to return the Kingdom of Israel.  To a specific dream of the“glory days.” A vision that requires a deep dive into the history of Israel.  A specific moment in time, after Moses, after the promise land, beginning with King David but before foreign nations began threatening their borders and before they were exiled and occupied by the Romans. And of course not during the reign of one of the bad or mediocre Kings, but one of the greats! Of course they forget that even during the best of times, God was still sending prophets into their midst telling them to repent and get their act together. 

After all the disciples had seen, from following the call of Jesus from their fishing boats to witnessing the resurrected Christ appear behind locked doors, and their burning question is “are we going back?”

Sound at all familiar?

If you have spent any time reading, watching or listening to the news, you know that the world is wondering when things are going to reopen: from sports to shopping to public spaces – including places of worship. In fact, in many cases, Christians have been at the forefront of the demand to for political and public health leaders to loosen restrictions on gatherings. 

And you would think of all the people demanding that things go back to the way they used to be, we would know better. 

Because we have been longing to go back to what we remember as the glory days, long before this pandemic hit the world. But of course, nailing down what we think we want to go back to is not as easy or straightforward as we think. It was only a matter of weeks ago that we were concerned with declining resources and aging populations and shrinking congregations. Is that what we want to return to? Or is there a more specific place we want to go backwards towards? Do we want to go back to the days of church buildings full of worshippers and bursting Sunday Schools? To a time when women, people of colour and LGBTQ2SIA+ people were prevented from holding positions of leadership in the church? To the time when many churches were homogenous cultural enclaves? To the time when pastors were paid in the chickens and made pastoral visits in order to shame members into handing over their offering?

Our desire may be to go back to the good old days, but which good old days might be hard to answer. 

It is normal to lament what was. Especially when we don’t know what is or what will be. But we have to admit it is strange to long for something that most of us can agree wasn’t that good… something that, if we’re really being honest needed change?

So when the disciples ask their question, Jesus not so gently tells the disciples that they have no clue what is coming next for them, and it isn’t their job to know. That is up to the Father. Instead they are just along for the ride, they are simply witnesses to the activity and plans of God in the world. 

The disciples had no clue that they were about to preach the gospel in all kinds of languages to all kinds of people baptizing them by the thousands. Nor did they know that most of the early church communities would small groups of 12 or 25 people spread throughout the Roman Empire and would be ministered to by a former Pharisee and murderer of Christians who liked to write letters. They did not know their little group of followers would spawn generations upon generations of faith communities proclaiming the gospel to all the ends of the earth.

They had no idea what their path would be as Jesus ascended to the Father. 

Yet as John describes to us, Jesus knows that his followers don’t have a clue what is in store for them. They are dreaming of the return of rose-coloured glory days, of going back to some imagined time of greatness that is certainly better in their imaginations than the real thing. 

They cannot help but look back with nostalgia and hope for the glory days again. 

And yet as Jesus prays, he names the ways in which his disciples belong to each other, that their life together is a reflection of Christ, peek into the Trinity, the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All along Jesus has been stitching this rag tag group together, shaping and moulding them for the next phase, the next chapter. Transforming them into this newly birthed community of the gospel. A community defined by the life of Christ, a community tied into the very death and resurrection of the One sent to save. 

That even as they have no idea where they are about to end up, Jesus has been preparing them to be what God needs them to be. 

A community of faith, 
of imperfect and flawed people 
who may not know where they are going, 
but who proclaim that the risen Christ 
is their way, their life and their truth. 
That the cross and empty tomb have changed them 
and all creation 
for the kingdom that has God envisioned. 

And so here today, what does this mean for us? 

We who long to return to normal, even as we begin to recognize that life as we knew it will not, cannot to be the same as it was. We come to the end of Easter, in the midst of this time of global uncertainty longing for comfort of the past. 

And we too are just as clueless about what comes next for us as the disciples were. No matter our desire to go back to normal, to go back to the glory days, to restore the kingdoms of our imaginings… there is no going back. And more importantly, we aren’t the one steering the ship anyways. 

Yet, Jesus’ reminds us today, with Pentecost on the horizon, that our future is known by God. And that we too are being prepared for what comes next for us. 

That Jesus is sticking us together into One Body, 
preparing us yet again to be new communities of faith, 
birthed into the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. 
That the cross and empty tomb redefine us, 
even in a world of declining churches, 
even in a world of pandemic closures… 
God is transforming us into the very body 
that will proclaim the Good News to the world, 
through whom God will proclaim 
forgiveness of sins and salvation in the waters, 
in whom God feeds the world with God’s own Body – the Body of Christ given for us. 

And so yes on this 7th Sunday of the most memorable Easter we have known, we are reminded again that God has the regular habit of setting us off in new directions when we least expect it. And that the destination is not for us to know, nor what things will look like when we get there. But only that God is the one leading us, that we belong to one another in Christ and that the sprit goes with us. And that Christ has been preparing us for this moment long before we even had a clue.

The season of Easter may be coming to an end…

but Christ promises us that this new resurrected life in this Easter community is only beginning. 

Amen. 

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.