Sunday 14 May 2023 Sixth Sunday of Easter
Finding the Way In a land without maps
1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:1-21
Context: Sunday Eucharist in a busy cathedral parish
Aim: to hear the freshness and promise in Christ’s Farewell Discourse
John Chapter 14 is often referred to by the shorthand theological tag as the ‘Farewell Discourse.’ While technically accurate, this description bleeds the words of Jesus of their intimacy and power. It suggests a collection of ideas to admire, rather than a living word by which we can be inspired and even transformed. Is it possible, therefore, to restore something of that vitality to Christ’s words? Can we allow the Spirit of truth to breathe new life into the words we have heard and, in the process, save us with the kiss of eternal life?
On the eve of his Passion, Christ gathers his disciples. He speaks to those who gave up their livelihoods and domestic securities to become his followers. But this is more than a poignant exchange of ‘goodbyes’ or an opportunity to express what each has meant to the other. This is much nearer to a locker room pep talk, it hums with energy and directness; Christ mapping out for his disciples the future of his Church, giving them ‘the reason for the hope’ (1 Peter 3:15) that they are to share with others.
For many people, including myself, maps have become largely redundant. Instead, we lazily rely on the voice of the car sat nav or our phones. The ability to read a map or orient ourselves by using physical landmarks has become lost to us. We are no longer required to visualise the route or imagine our final destination. The technology now does all the heavy lifting. All we have to do is to follow the instructions. This is fine for navigating the lay of the land, but such passivity proves more problematic when we are travelling the pilgrim way to our heavenly destination.
Christ tells his disciples that he is going to his Father’s house, where he will prepare a place for them also. The glory of God is the final destination. What’s more, he tells them that they already know the way to get there. They’re baffled by the confidence of his assertion. ‘What are you talking about? How can we know the way?’ they ask him.
The disciples appear like those who rely on a sat nav, but then suddenly lose its signal. For them, the prospect of losing Christ also means losing all sense of spiritual direction and moral purpose. They are left disorientated. But Christ reassures them that they will not be left as homeless orphans and that he will cut new paths, fresh routes towards the sacred heart of God. He assures them, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ He is the way. He is the destination.
But there is something more. During his earthly life, Christ has been their advocate, strengthening their resolve in the divine ways of love and mercy even in the face of persecution. Through his life, death and resurrection Christ reveals that those who follow him are known and loved by God.
Yet, he assures them that when he is no longer physically present to them, he will send ‘another Advocate’ who will continue to reveal to them the terrifying and consoling depths of the mysteries of Paschal faith. This Advocate will pilot them safely home.
Where this tongue of fire lights a way, we can be confident that Christ is present to us. With this certainty, we are able to risk everything to follow him. Doing so, we flourish as human beings and are commissioned to be ambassadors of hope to our fellow brothers or sisters who inhabit the shadows or are trapped by the darkness. The Paraclete calls us alongside him and strengthens our course by giving us the grace to choose selflessness over self-absorption, the ways of virtue rather than vice and to decommission our weapons – the drone, the bullet, the serrated knife, the tongue, the biting tweet – in favour of the ways of peace, ‘courtesy and respect’ (1 Peter 3:16).
Christ is the Way, because he is the truth and the life. He has travelled the only way to the Father, that is, the way of the Cross that leads finally to glory. Where he has gone, we must follow and take our place on the path of righteousness because ‘anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me; and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and show myself to him’(John 14:21b). When we travel that way, guided by the Holy Spirit, the house of the Father comes into view and our every step becomes a declaration of hope.
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