May 20, 2011

5th Easter: I AM way, truth, and life

Acts 6: 1-7
1 Pt 2: 4-9
Jn 14: 1-1

God, our Father,
look upon us with love.
You redeem us and make us your children in Christ.
Give us true freedom
and bring us to the inheritance you promised.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
(Opening Prayer - 5th Sunday of Easter)

I recently heard a radio interview with a man who was quite open about his atheism. He clearly did not believe in God and felt religion was a joke. He said that when he finds problems in his life, “I don’t pray or turn to God. I just handle these things by myself. They work themselves out.” My response would be something like, “Well, good luck.”

Yes, the majority of our problems do “work themselves out" but there is something more troubling here. If you deny the existence of a supreme being you have only to rely on yourself. The success of AA for example is the acknowledgement of a "higher power." For people of faith, that is a personal God. A God who is real and intimately involved with our lives.

However, if truth is nothing more than existence in this world then you become the determiner of your own destiny. We do have free will and often the choices we make, for good or ill, do affect the outcome of our lives - our destiny in a sense. And some in the non-believing world would say that’s exactly the point. “Dependence on religious fantasy is a sign of immaturity and naive simplicity.” Such arrogance still leaves us flat. Faith alone can give that third dimension to our lives because it acknowledges the spiritual as real.

Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel seems to imply the same: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me . . .” (Jn 14: 3). I don’t believe that he is advising his Apostles to deny what they feel as they realize his departure is imminent. Rather, those concerns should never overcome us to the point of despair. Christians are essentially an optimistic people because we have, “. . . faith in God . . “ and also have faith in his Son, Jesus. He presents to us a road map – or a divine GPS in today’s technical language.

Jesus takes advantage of Thomas’ query: “Master we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (Jn 11: 4-5). Our Lord responds, “I Am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me . . .” (Jn 14: 6). Jesus has come as the doorway through which we walk to union with God in eternity. He is the way to the Father. But he doesn't just offer us a direction - he invites to believe that HE is the way, HE is truth itself, and HE is the life we seek in this life which leads us to the next.

The Easter message is one essentially of invitation; a God of welcome. If Jesus is way, truth and life, we have confidence that what he has said and done is true. And as we live by his “way” we will have his life. Not only is this beautiful imagery it also provides meaning and purpose to our lives. It likewise reminds us of the Eucharist itself - which is himself given to us. That is ultimately a call to faith.

Yet, I have often noticed that we tend to confuse our occasional anxious feelings about the stuff that happens to us with a lack of faith. “If I had true faith,”we reason, “I would not feel anxious and worried.” Hmm, I don’t know about you but I’m not an angel. I cannot deny my humanity and its short-sighted perspective. The normal human reaction to the unknown is a certain level of fear and bewilderment. Moving to a new location, for example, is often among the most stressful things we do. We might feel that we have to start all over again – new location, new friends, and all those address changes! So we seek the familiar, the secure, or people and situations that remind us of what we have left behind. (No reference at all to the so called "rapture" - as in being left behind)

In the midst of change, we often fear the worst but hope for the best. The Apostles could not imagine a future without Jesus in their midst. But, we have the Lord in our midst. He has not abandoned any of us. In Word and Sacrament he abides with us. He moves with us.

As we come to the Feast of the Ascension and then the end of the Easter season in the great Solemnity of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, this truth should bring us reassurance. Though many centuries removed from the time our Lord left this earth, his promise to remain with us has no less impact. The Apostles rejoiced in their experience of the risen Lord. Jesus warned them to be prepared for persecution and martyrdom. Yet, if he sustained his Apostles for their ministry, why would he not do the same for us?

Jesus said, “I AM the way, truth and life.” As God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and said “I AM” so too does Jesus reassure us that he is God who has come to us and invites us to relationship with him. In Eucharist each Sunday he comes to his faith-filled people and said, “Do not be afraid . . . ”

A wonderful Christian adage goes this way, “Wheverever God acts, God is.” I AM, Bread of Life, healer of souls, vine and branches, the Good Shepherd, the way, the truth, the life.