Easter 5, A
One of my all time favorite times of any given day is bed time. Not my bedtime – although I will confess to an inordinate fondness for getting some sleep wherever and whenever I can. I mean the kids’ bedtime. When they are all ready, when the strains and stresses of the day are all done, when faces are washed, hair braided and teeth brushed, I lay down next to them for wind-down time. Sometimes they are tired and offer minimal conversation. Sometimes I learn the things that are most important, the things I would never learn any other way – the thoughts that creep into their minds when new input has stopped for the day.
Of late, not surprisingly, the topic on the mind, particularly of my eldest, has been the dance recital. “Mumma!” “Mumma, we need to have a plan.” “Really, a plan? What do you mean?”
The reply catalogs a litany of the events which must unfold stretching from the Friday 4:00 dress rehearsal requiring curls and make-up and sparklies but tights with holes are ok right through the Saturday and Sunday shows where holes in tights are strictly forbidden.
“Well, I mused, “that sounds pretty much like ‘the plan’.” I knew even as the words escaped my mouth that the answer would not prove satisfactory.
The poor child’s tension under her barely maintained patience was palpable – her heart remained troubled. But how, Mumma? Where are we going to get make-up done? How are we going to have time for curls? When are we going to eat? How are we going to know where to go? What about? How about?
Faced with stressful or overwhelming circumstances we try to break things down into digestible bits, the smaller questions that give us a foothold.
Our Gospel lesson is taken from the beginning of the Farewell Discourse in John, the long conversation Jesus had with his disciples between the Last Supper and the Garden at Gethsemane. From the perspective of finding the powerful Messiah that will rise up and deliver Israel from all her oppressors, things are not looking good. Faced with far more life altering circumstances than a dance recital, the disciples do exactly the same thing as my daughter – break it down, ask the smaller questions. Where are you going, Lord? How will we know the way? Can you show us the Father?
Hmmm, says Jesus. You’re not quite getting it. This is one of those things that is so elemental that you can’t break it down into smaller pieces. It’s not about showing you the father – I am in the Father, and the Father is in me. It’s not about showing you the way. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
One commentator notes that this particular assurance from Jesus has become tantamount to a threat in some modern contexts. It’s offered up as an ultimatum demanding people “‘get with the program’ and ‘accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior’ in order to be saved. To interpret the verse this way is to rip it from its context and do violence to the spirit of Jesus’ words.
“This statement by Jesus is a promise, a word of comfort to his disciples. Jesus himself is all they need; there is no need to panic, no need to search desperately for a secret map. Jesus adds, ‘If you know me, you will know my Father also’ (14:7a). The conditional phrase in Greek is a condition of fact, meaning that the condition is understood to be true: “If you know me (and you do), you will know my father also.” So that there can be no misunderstanding, Jesus adds, “From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (Working Preacher, Elisabeth Johnson). Notice, please, that He speaks in present tense; this is not a deal to be made for future salvation – this is real time; this is here and now; this is living the Kingdom today. As Catherine of Siena said, “All the way to heaven is heaven because he said, ‘I am the way.’”
Jesus offers no formula, or chart or outline. Jesus offers…Jesus. A relationship, not a plan. Thomas Merton says, “We become ourselves when we find ourselves in Christ.” Jesus offers no timeline. The relationship is now and never-ending and all consuming. Belief is not a pre-requisite for obtaining God’s love or Jesus’s saving Grace – but rather a reality that emanates from that love, that grace, and permeates our lives.
My youngest brought me a Mother’s Day card at 6 this morning, along with some other goodies on a tray. The handmade card read, “Roses are red. Violots (sic) are blue. I don’t know why, but I love you”. That unconditional, unreasoned, un-bargained, unearned love of a daughter for her mother, a mother for her children, children and parents for one another provides a beautiful reflection of God’s love for all God’s children – you and me and all our friends and all our enemies. There is no why, no how, no when, no reason, no formula, no magic trick. There is, is.
A marvelous African American a’capella group called Sweet Honey in the Rock offers this:
I don’t know how my mother walked her trouble down
I don’t know how my father stood his ground
I don’t know how my people survived slavery
I do remember, that’s why I believe
I don’t know why the rivers overflow their banks
I don’t know why the snow falls and covers the ground
I don’t know why the hurricane sweeps through the land
Every now and then
Standing in a rainstorm, I believe
I don’t know why the angels woke me up this morning soon
I don’t know why the blood still runs through my veins
I don’t know how I rate to run another day
I am here still running, I believe.
My God calls to me in the morning dew
The power of the universe knows my name
Gave me a song to sing and sent me on my way
I raise my voice for justice, I believe.