St. John's, Centreville
May 14, 2017
5 Easter A
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." Today's gospel reading is part of Jesus' farewell discourse in the gospel of John. It is the evening of the Last Supper. Jesus has washed his disciple's feet and Judas has left to betray Jesus. They have shared the Passover meal and Jesus has told Peter he will deny him three times.
As Jesus talks with his disciples, he tells them that he will only be with them a little longer and that where he is going, they cannot come. The disciples are confused. Jesus recently rode into Jerusalem with crowds of people shouting "Hosanna in the highest!" and waving palm branches. They thought he was going to be the one to save them from the Romans. And now he is telling them that he needs to leave, that he will no longer be with them. The disciples are having a hard time grasping what Jesus is telling them.
But as he prepares his disciples for his departure, Jesus offers them words of hope and assurance. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In 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? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be also."
Jesus knows that the days and the weeks ahead will be hard for the disciples to bear. They will see Jesus betrayed, convicted and crucified like a common criminal, and then after three days, they would find his tomb empty.
So Jesus tries to give them some reassurance, strength, and some hope. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." He tells them that he is going to prepare a place for them, and that in eternity, they will be together. But for now, he must leave them physically, and they must continue doing Jesus' work.
As these are comforting words for the disciples, they are also comforting words for us. This reading is one that is often used at funerals, to give peace and hope to those who are grieving their loss, and wondering what the future will be like without their loved one.
These words can also comfort those who are troubled or anxious. We live in a world filled with fear and anxiety. We are afraid of what will happen, what the future will hold. We worry that we will not be able to handle what life brings our way, whether its illness, or broken relationships, or death of a loved one, or financial insecurity. That worry and fear can tie us up into such knots that it is all we can do to get through another day.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." It is not just a coincidence that Jesus talks about fear and anxiety many times throughout the gospels. "Do not be afraid," Jesus says to the women who see him after the resurrection. To Martha, Jesus says, "You are anxious and troubled about many things." To the disciples, he says, "Do not be anxious about your life." And to the disciples on the night before his crucifixion, he says, "Do not let your hearts be troubled."
And Jesus says the same thing to us. Believe in God even when things look hopeless, even when you are in the darkest moments of your life - a loved one has died and you don't know how your life will continue; you are unemployed with a family to support and you can't find a job; illness keeps knocking you down again and again and you no longer have the strength to fight it.
There is nothing in this life that you have to endure alone - no illness, no loneliness, no poverty, no depression. God is always present and will give us strength and guidance and support. And when we forget God, God comes to us and finds ways to steady us, if we are open to God's presence. God is our anchor in the storm, our support when our world is crumbling around us. Trust that no matter what happens, God is with us.
Jesus goes on to say, "And 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. And you know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said, "I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." This was NOT meant to be an exclusive claim, that only Christians would be granted eternal life. The author of John's gospel is writing in the second century. Jerusalem and the temple have been destroyed. The Jews have been exiled from Judea and the Pharisees were throwing John's community out of the synagogues. For the followers of Jesus in that day, John is saying, there is only one way to have a relationship with God and that is through our relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus is saying "if you have seen me, you have seen the Father" and "if you know me, you know the Father." John is defining his Christian community's boundaries in relation to the Pharisees. This passage was written to give assurance to the disciples who were facing an uncertain future. It was not meant to be used as an attack on other faith traditions. It was an affirmation to the disciples that Jesus is the Messiah.
Jesus wants to assure the disciples that they will have an ongoing relationship with him even after death. Death does not have the last word. By Jesus' resurrection, he has overcome death and opened the gates to larger life.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me." God will be with us through the difficult times, when we feel burdened and alone. And that is the Good News of the gospel - that we are not alone - that we have not been set adrift upon this earth to go it alone.
May we put our faith and our trust and our hope in the living God who is with us always, who loves us and cares for us and who has prepared a place for us in God's eternal kingdom. Amen.