5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, CYCLE A
18th MAY 2014
Deacon Tony van Vuuren
The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, once said: ‘We live forward, but we understand backwards.’ So whenever we listen to or reflect on the scripture readings, we go backwards to the life of Jesus, so that for now and for the future, we can strive to understand how to become better people; people of faith. Today we find ourselves tuning in to the start of the conversation between Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper.
The disciples are obviously quite troubled and anxious because they have begun to realise that Jesus is soon to leave them. Jesus is trying to calm them down. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” We might think that the disciples were being a bit unreasonable. We do so because, looking backwards at those events, we know that Jesus must leave them in order to bring about the salvation of mankind. But we ought to remember that the disciples do not know this; they cannot understand his words because they don’t know what we know. Just a few days after entering the Holy City, Jesus is now talking about leaving them; appearing to abandon them. There is talk of a traitor amongst them and denial. No wonder they are confused, no wonder they are upset. In their shock at what is happening they will forget these beautiful reassuring words of Jesus’: “Trust in God still, and trust in me.” “I am going to prepare you a place and after I have gone and prepared you a place I shall return to take you with me.”It is not by any accident that the first part of today’s Gospel passage is the one most frequently selected for funerals. Jesus is, after all is speaking about life after death and he is doing so in very reassuring words and in quite concrete terms. Here Jesus is quite specific; he not only knows the way; he is The Way. He not only speaks the truth; he is The Truth. He not only survives death but he is The Life. But the disciples simply don’t get it. They don’t understand what he is talking about because this place that Jesus is referring to is beyond the grave. He is going to the place from which no one has ever come back. That’s why they are distraught and upset, that’s why they deny him, that’s why they desert him in their time of crisis. Never mind that Jesus is facing a terrible crisis himself. There comes a time in the lives of all believers when things can get very dark, and we have to believe what we cannot prove, and accept reality, even though we cannot understand or make sense of what’s happening. It’s at such times that we really need strong faith, but it’s precisely at such times that our faith often fails us. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we have a strong faith when things are going well. When a crisis arises we discover what kind of faith we have, or if we have any faith at all! By faith here I mean trust in God. Of course there are those of us who think that if God is with us, and if He really loved us, then no storm will ever hit us. So, when a storm does hit us, we experience a deep crisis of faith, thinking that God has abandoned us. But at a time of crisis that is the only thing we can do; go on stubbornly trusting in God. Trust is the greatest thing we can give to another person. At that hour we must believe that somehow there is a purpose to it all, and that good will come out of it. Then the unbearable becomes bearable and in the darkness a glimmer of light appears. Easier said than done of course!What real faith does is assure us that God is with us in the midst of the crisis. It is that feeling, that conviction that we are not alone, that we are not abandoned, which enables us to get through the crisis. God is with us through our family support; through our friends; through our pastoral support. Einstein is credited with saying that “coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous!” Life is unintelligible and unendurable without God. That’s why faith is so important. Those who have faith have a source of comfort and inspiration, especially when trouble strikes. They know that God will be good to them in the end, both in this world and in the next. It is not we who keep the faith; it is the faith who keeps us.
What a bleak future for the first followers who had placed their trust in Jesus; people who had envisioned a completely different future for themselves. Jesus’ words about his death troubled their hearts. Was there a future for them with this crisis coming upon them? How could they endure it? What would get them through it?
We know with hindsight that the troubles would be severe and the community would be scattered in fright. Still, Jesus asked his table companions, what he asks us at the Eucharist table with him today, “Have faith in God and have faith also in me.”
Jesus’ promise of his lasting presence with his followers wasn’t just a promise for rosy, blissful times, but holds especially true in times of stress and loss. Left by ourselves our faith would crumble. Think of all the testing places: our homes, workplace, at school, “out in the world.” Yet, if Jesus’ life has taught us anything, it is that new life can come out of pain and loss.
In the meanwhile, Jesus has returned to make a home for us here and now. Our gathering for worship is just one of the many dwelling places Jesus has prepared for us. St Michael’s; for some of us, our home away from home, is where we are unburdened of past wrongs through the sacrament of reconciliation; where we can be ourselves, blemishes and all; where we can get help and help others, carrying burdens that have weighed us down. Here we are fed and given strength until we arrive at our final and permanent home, the dwelling place Jesus has gone ahead to prepare for us.
So today, in our Eucharist, let us acknowledge Jesus Christ as our way, our truth, and our life, and let us re-commit ourselves to being with him in life and in death.