Of all the Bible passages that are used at funerals, the first 6 verses of John 14 is probably the most popular. And for good reason. The words are spoken by Jesus to his friends during the Last Supper and they are spoken in the context of Jesus’ coming betrayal, denial, and death. Words spoken at a time of anxiety, sadness and incomprehension; such feelings are well known by families who are gathering to say goodbye to somebody they have loved. The words are reassuring as Jesus tells his friends to not let their hearts be troubled, but to continue to trust in God’s love and generosity. I suspect that during these times of Covid, those words will have provided comfort and succour in difficult circumstances.
At the same time, for others the words feel unhelpful; do not let your hearts be troubled – how can this be given everything that is happening around the world? Troubled in one way or another, is precisely what many people are right now; troubled about their families; troubled about their children and their schooling; troubled about their jobs and for those without jobs, troubled about their employment prospects. We want to see a way out- a prospect for this all to end to get back to something resembling normal, to safe and familiar routines. Maybe we even pin our hopes on a road map from the Prime minister.
Well, the disciples felt similarly confused with what Jesus was telling them; Thomas and Philip need something more specific, something more concrete. The intensely practical question of Thomas resonates with many ‘Lord we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way’; he needs something more to reassure him but what he gets is the well know retort of Jesus – I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also’. For Philip though this is not enough and so he says Lord show us the Father and we will be satisfied. A slightly exasperated Jesus replies Have I been with you all this time Philip and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Jesus goes on to tell them that the words he has spoken and the deeds he has done are of God- believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.
This passage is beautiful; Jesus again drawing his disciples into the mystery and wonder of God. Of love. His life whole life and death reveal God to us; not one phrase or one healing or story but everything together, including his resurrection appearances to the disciples, which we have been reading through Easter. Jesus bestows peace and forgiveness and leaves people with their hearts burning. The statement I am the way the truth and the life is not a doctrine to be signed up to, or a claim of exclusiveness but rather an invitation to come and see – the very same invitation that Philip had made to Nathanael at the start of their journey with Jesus, in John’s Gospel.
Of course on one level Philip knows Jesus-Philip Thomas and all the disciples have spent the best part of two years with Jesus; they have ate with him; they have been to weddings with him; heard him tell stories and confront those in charge; seen him heal those who are sick, opened the eyes of those who are blind, fed thousands and scandalised as many with his provocative teaching and behaviour. Just now he had knelt down and washed their feet, telling them their task was to love one another as he had loved them. Yes, they knew him, they had pinned their hopes on him; he was their way, their truth and their life for all this time. They had followed him, listened to him, and lived with him. But right now, at this time of looming crisis, things are not working out as planned; how can it end like this? The disciples wanted something more concrete – not a picture but a programme. What they got was less of a road map but just Jesus himself, pointing to how he had lived and how he was going to die.
We are invited to take the same risk as the disciples did in following Jesus, not with any certainty as to where it will lead but trusting that as Jesus said In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. Which means God is roomy. God is generous. God is hospitable. God can handle our doubts, our fears, and our questions. We have a place with God and God is there waiting for us arms wide open.
Revd Jonathan Morris