Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC
Year A - Easter 5 - May 18, 2014
1 Peter 2:2-10
Over the past thirty years, I’ve spoken Jesus’ words at the beginning of the 14th chapter of John countless times to those gathered at the edge of a freshly dug grave. At the edge of his own grave, Jesus means to reassure his disciples that his death is not the end, but the beginning of the way whose destination is the room he is making for them in God. The disciples are incredulous. So are we, much of the time, especially when we are frightened or threatened by change or loss.
The lectionary readings for the Sundays after Easter are full of instructions for the disciples about how to live as Jesus taught without his physical presence in their midst. This week’s Gospel is a part of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse preparing believers to consider not only his journey through death to life, but our own as well. As the first disciples gathered with Jesus for that farewell meal, their hearts were torn with anxiety and fear. They had been following Jesus, but their understanding of his message, vision, and mission was limited at best. They had a vision of a messianic strong man who would liberate the people from occupation, but he was about to be seemingly defeated by same oppression.
How does the heart feast at a banquet table of disappointment and defeat? What would free the human heart from being troubled at such a time? We use this passage to comfort and support mourners. The disciples in the text find no comfort. More than Jesus’ body will perish. All that they have believed and hoped for will soon be nailed to a tree. It will be a while before they realize that death will not have the last or the lasting word.
The world has a multitude of answers as to what will relieve our hearts. Jesus has only one: “Believe in God, believe also in me”. (14:1) In his Gospel, John speaks of believing almost exclusively not as something to which one assents inwardly, but as an outward and active commitment to a person, the person being Jesus. Luther in The Large Catechism asks what it means to have a God. His answer is, “God is what you hang your heart upon.” The heart that is troubled is a heart not hung upon God, but rather on all the things the world peddles to soothe a troubled heart. Jesus tells the disciples in their time of uncertainty, “Hang your heart on God; hang your heart on me.”
With our post-Easter eyes, it might seem easier for us to skip to the end of the story. If we do that, we lose sight of the fact that as the new is birthed, something dies, and that which is eternal can find its full nativity only in death. In both the maternity room and the hospice room, those present are changed---all things are being made new. Birth and death are the bookends of a shelf full of stories of transformation.
Birth and death are repeating cycles in the narrative of our lives. Visions of who we are and are becoming give us life, even as a previous sense of ourselves dies. In these moments, even as Christ is leading us, we often echo Thomas in asking how we can know the way if we do not know where God is. With Philip, we claim that we will be satisfied if we can just see. As hospice chaplain and midwife to ourselves and each other, our role is to be fully present, even as we cannot see and do not know what comes next in our life.
The disciples want to cling to the perceived safety of location----they want to know where Jesus is going and how to go there with him. In John’s Gospel, location is used as a metaphor for the intimacy of a close relationship. As they are sharing the feast of loss, John’s Jesus attempts to assure them that there will be a place with plenty of room for them. The relationship is going to continue even as it changes. They will not be forgotten. The place he is preparing for them, for us, in God’s own life, is eternal life.
Instead of hearing the exclusivity of the Christian claim in John 14, consider the pains Jesus takes to assure us that we come to God by God’s initiative in Christ. We know God in that God grants us what we could never reach or even know we could or should reach. God takes us into the knowledge of Godself. In the Word made flesh, God’s self-knowledge is disclosed in the self-giving, self-emptying love that is Christ. What we know of God in Jesus Christ is that God has chosen not to be God without us. In this is love, the love that is God.
God’s promise to love us, to make room for us, to know and be known by us, never ends. Therefore our hearts need not be troubled. God has claimed us. Nothing can undo us because God has named us. No shallow expression of faith can represent us. Christ is risen! It is enough to sustain us. It is enough to support us. It is enough to empower us to live as witnesses to that love. +Amen.