May 17, 2014

5th Easter Sunday: The Way to the Father

"I am the way, the truth and the life"

Setting out on a road trip or finding directions from one point to another has certainly changed over the years.  Many of us remember road maps or something called a “trip check” that we would inevitably need to find our destination. 

If it was a summer trip to a National Park or some new destination you had never been to, out came the map spread wide on the dining room table.  You would find the road, maybe pull out a colored marker and plot the route needed.  You would measure the distance in miles and approximate how long it might take you to arrive for the night. In the end it was somewhat of a guess and if you made a wrong turn or missed the road you had marked on the map you either encountered an unexpected delay or it became an adventure in exploration. 

However, today we use a GPS which not only tells you how far the destination is but how long it will take you to arrive.  The more sophisticated ones actually speak to you.  How often have many of us heard “recalculating” when we take a wrong turn or change our course.  All in a matter of seconds.  No more expansive unfolded road maps or need to stop for directions.  Now you just punch in your destination and voila – just follow the voice.

In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus offers us a clear direction.  His voice speaks: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  He encourages his Apostles, and through them, all who would come to embrace the Christian Gospel and the person of Jesus to, “not let your hearts be troubled.”  That we are called to put our faith in Jesus and know that it is his desire, and that of his Father, that we be united with him in his “Father’s house” for eternity. 

Further, when Jesus implies that though he is going away: “I am going to prepare a place for you,” then “I will come back again and take you to myself” we may scratch our heads a bit and wonder what exactly is he getting at? It’s clear the Apostles themselves were slow to comprehend the full extent of Jesus’ words and mission before the resurrection event.

So, this Gospel may appear on the surface as more confusing than clear.  This is not Jesus walking with his disciples on the road, or appearing in the upper room after the resurrection, or speaking to Mary Magdalene in the garden as she discovered the empty tomb of Jesus. Jesus here appears almost as professor attempting to explain to his students, the Apostles, the mysteries of a post-resurrection Christ.  

But, we stand on the other side of the resurrection and five weeks into the Easter Season we may feel the same way. While the resurrection of Jesus changed forever everything and we see the transformation of the Apostles in their bold preaching and martyrdom still we are lost at times. We need direction we need a God who is not always hidden and mysterious.

Here we can glean from Jesus’ words in the Gospel this weekend the invitation to enter into relationship with him and each other. No one need be fearful or lost for at the essence of what it means to be a Christian is not a disembodied doctrine or a moral code, one among others, but a direct relationship with a person, who is Jesus Christ the risen Savior, and membership in a family formed by him.

Pope Francis recently stated:  “You cannot understand a Christian outside of the people of God. The Christian belongs to a people: the Church.” In other words our Holy Father is reminding us that actual membership in a family and participation in that faith community where we come to know and encounter the risen Christ is the only sensible way to live our Christian life. We are not called to separation or individualism.

In our shared faith, in the living encounter of the risen Christ in word and sacrament, and in the love and service we offer to one another, we are Christian.  Outside of these crucial relationships we are separated and distant from our very source; like walking away from our own families and abandoning all contact with them

The Lord Jesus, then, gives us more than a road map in the life of our faith community. Through him we find our way to the Father, he walks with us as he did with the disciples to Emmaus, he calls after us like a shepherd calls to his sheep.  In the life of the Church we learn these truths.

In a deeper sense the truth of Jesus is verified by the resurrection.  Why should we not follow some other voice? Why can’t we just apply truth according to the situation we find ourselves in, which is the favored way of our culture today? 

If what Jesus taught was nothing more than a moral code of behavior then we may accept many other truths as legitimate. But Jesus said, “I am the truth.”  His claim to be truth itself changes the picture for us in our oft confused culture which claims that truth is relative and nothing is for sure or lasts forever. If Jesus is truth itself, then we can trust that all he said and did offers humanity a code for life.

His call to be life reassures us that if we follow faithfully in his way, we will know what is true, have confidence in his voice and not be troubled by what life may throw at us. This is the fullness of life which St. Peter speaks of in the second reading:

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

What a claim!  What a promise!  What a truth!