In the face of Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, Chapter 14, verses 1 – 14, our many images and ideas of God are hopefully disturbed and challenged.
Who is Jesus, this human being, who is going to be broken, tortured and killed, who at this point in the Gospel story is frustrated at the slowness of our understanding, as we resist the evidence before our eyes? Who is this Jesus who is loving and who is one with the God and Holy Spirit who was present before the universe was born?
This Jesus is the God who knew us before we were knit in our mother’s womb, this is the God who knows our souls, and is with us at our ending. This is the God who loves us all so much God’s son died for love of us so that we might dare to believe.
This is God, who in our brokenness we might dare to go on believing in, even when we fail.
Who is God, as we try to make sense of the mystery that God is in Jesus and Jesus is in God; and, knowing God is in us too if we accept God is the way, the truth and the life for all people?
This description is repeated, over and over again by Jesus. This is God, the Holy Trinity in a few short verses.
This conversation between Jesus and his friends is taking place as they have their last meal together before Jesus is finally betrayed and handed over to be tortured and killed. Judas has already left the meal early to go and hand him over, and Jesus is trying to give his friends a final set of directions, invitations, explanations, anything that will cement the last few years in their hearts and minds to carry them over the next few days and hours and, hopefully for the rest of their lives.
And let me ask you now, what are the images that stick in our own minds for us when we’re listening under pressure?
Is it reassurance about our safety? Is it reminders of things we’ve done together so we can hold onto the memory? Is it an image of a future that cannot be dislodged?
I can imagine at this point in the meal, the disciples are truly unsettled.
They were there that morning, at the exciting entry into Jerusalem where Jesus was lauded, welcomed and his popularity was high. But it was also where Jesus decisively has refused to act with violence against the oppressors. He has not taken up force of arms against the Roman empire. He has clearly turned his back on such an option and other similar choices that would lead to earthly power.
Instead, here they are, just before the Passover Festival, this small group are having a meal in a small room together.
It’s worth remembering the Festival of Passover celebrated God’s saving of the people of Israel from slavery, taking them out of Egypt. That enslaved people ate their last meal together as they prepared to set out on their next journey to the land God promised them. The disciples are about to do the same.
The disciples are unsettled.
In preparation for the meal and their journey, Jesus has washed their feet and is serving out the food. He has been talking for days about what is to happen, he is trying to prepare them for the horror to come. He is, in the face of all the contrary evidence, trying to reassure them.
I think it’s a bit like being with someone you love and whom you both know is dying. We desperately try to hold onto their words, embed them in our hearts and memories, we hang onto each embrace, the feel of their body, their arms around us, their touch and their smile. The harder we hold, the harder it is to let go. Any sense of safety and a belief that it will ever be right again becomes harder and harder to imagine and impossible for it to make sense.
In such circumstances, I ask you again: what are our most powerful images of our loving God and where we might find our faith?
Jesus is trying to find the way through to the hearts and minds of his friends.
Reminding them with the memories of God’s loving presence in their lives, evident through the words and actions of Jesus whom they love and trust and with whom they have lived, argued, discussed, shared meals together, walked and prayed together, read and studied the scriptures, attended synagogue together for the last few years.
Jesus is the human face of God’s love.
And, I suspect, it’s no good trying to hold onto old ideas of God in the face of Jesus’s presence and his words. Holding onto stereotypes of God, old language, old images that restrict and limit God and make God controllable and domesticated do not do God justice now, for ourselves, for others, or for the future.
They do not allow Jesus to breathe and do not show a way for us and others to follow.
They simply hold us safe while we stagnate and do not grow. Such images do not allow for doubt, questioning or any capacity to grow. They do not allow for difference and diversity and sharing.
And Jesus calls to mind in this last conversation with his friends, an image of our homes, the place where we ‘know’ ourselves and God knows us.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2).
Jesus is describing a place where we will be ourselves in God not at some distant point in the future after our death, but here and now. Our God who celebrates our diversity, not sameness; where our ‘becoming’ what God invites us to be is reflective of what God hopes and loves for us in our active living now.
This dwelling place is not a place where we bar the door and lock out the light, and shut our fear in with ourselves.
It is a place where we are one with God, open, welcomed and welcoming; with God who is never limited by us.
In preparing for this reflection, I was thinking how often we do not dare to believe in our own ‘becoming’ in God, but this dwelling place is not a place where we should stop and give in to the fear of this world and be absorbed by the world to the exclusion of God.
Jesus is glorious in his invitation to us.
He looks around the table at his friends and says, ‘Look at what I have done, if you struggle to believe my words or make sense of them even after all this time, then at least look at what I do. And let me tell you,’ he says to Philip and all the others listening:
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father, I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for something, I will do it. (John 14:11-14).
All things are possible with Jesus in God with the Holy Spirit. All things are possible for us my friends in Christ, in our dwelling with God, Creator, Word and Holy Spirit, living fully as God desires for us.
Jesus said: I am the way, and the truth and the life.
We cannot go wrong with that reassurance. The Lord be with you.