The way. The truth. The life. These words may not mean what you think. They are not a claim on the superiority of Christianity. They are not meant to raise Jesus followers to an elite status. Jesus spoke them (at least according to the writer of the Fourth Gospel) to his disciples in order to prepare them for his impending death. In John’s Gospel Jesus makes a valiant effort to remind his disciples of everything he taught them in the few days before his crucifixion. He knew they would literally be afraid for their lives and worried about what would happen in those first weeks after his death. It would be a while before they realized that he had been preparing them to continue his work for the entire time they had followed him. The disciples tended to be slow learners.
This means there is hope for us. We who are followers today are also slow to remember all that Jesus taught. Even though who know the whole story of ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection and we have had a couple thousand years to embody Jesus’ teachings, we still don’t quite manage to do it. Here we are in days that are strikingly similar to the days that Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for while they struggled with what he told them. We, too, are afraid to be out in the world because we could catch a deadly virus (and yes, there are those among us who are afraid to go out in the world because those with power could kill them). We, too, are heavily burdened by grief – the loss of loved ones, the loss of connections, the loss of some freedom of movement, the loss of jobs, and more. With all of this and more, it is hard to remember, let alone emobdy, what Jesus taught.
While we cannot imagine that there is a way through these days of COVID-19, Jesus reminds us that there is. God’s way will get us through. More specifically, the Way that Jesus embodied – the way of Love. If we remember that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves and care for the most vulnerable among us, we increase the odds that we will survive this pandemic. The most loving things we can do right now are to maintain physical distancing, stay home as much as possible, and wear a mask when we do need to go out. Then we can think about what we need and what our neighbors need. We don’t need to hoard toilet paper or cleaning products. We don’t need to fill our freezers with meat. We can take only what we need so that there will be enough for all. We can live with an abundance mentality in spite of the government’s emphasis on scarcity. We can care for our neighbors when the current Administration would rather keep us divided. Yes, the Way of Love will get us through much of what troubles us these days.
When we need guidance on this Way, then we can reflect on what Jesus lived and taught as Truth. Truth is often difficult to uncover these days. However, I’m not talking about facts, necessarily. I’m talking about the Truth of our need for one another. The Truth that we are not in this alone and we will only make it through by recognizing how interdependent we are. No one is outside of God’s reach. No one is beyond the need to be seen and re-membered, re-connected (or connected for the first time) to a loving community. If we say we are Christians, followers of Christ, then the Truth we must embody is that God’s Love is for all people and we are to be agents of that Love. This means dismantling white supremacy that is ingrained into all U.S. systems and institutions. This means believing that no one deserves COVID-19 just as no one deserves to live in poverty without access to adequate healthcare and doing something about it. No one deserves the pain and grief of this pandemic. The Truth is that this virus is not from God and it is the Way of Love that will enable us to navigate to the other side. We need each other to ensure that no one goes unseen and that the foolishness coming out of Washington does not go unchallenged.
Life is what happens most abundantly when we are united by Love. Jesus made this clear over and over again. If we want to have life, then we must love. Love as Jesus loved. Love our neighbors as ourselves. We need to be known for our Love. Simple enough, right? Nope. It wasn’t simple for the first disciples and it’s not simple for us. This is why Jesus told them not to let their hearts be troubled or afraid. He knew just how easy it was for human beings to be consumed by worry and fear, how easily we are led away from the hard Way of Love. It doesn’t make us bad people, this tendency to wander from the Way. It means we are human and that we need to be reminded of all that Jesus taught again and again. Maybe even more now in the midst of this global crisis. We can have life. We know how to attain it. More importantly, we know how to share its abundance. We can do it…when we remember.
Let’s all take a deep breath and relax a little bit. We have what we need in this moment. We do know the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We know the house of God has room enough for all. We can be agents of this Good News. When we are exhausted from too much Zoom, trying to be teachers and parents to our children while working full time from home, figuring out how to stretch our diminished paychecks, sorting through the news, looking for hope, carrying grief, and all the tiring things that come from staying at home and missing the life we had, it is possible to take a breath. It is possible to reach through our exhausting to connect with someone who feels alone and hopeless.
Jesus knew what he was doing when he spoke to his disciples in those days before his death. May his words speak to us now and remind us of all that we know. May we be the embodiment of the Way, the Truth, and the Life in this time of crisis, fear, and isolation.
RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 10, 2020
1 Peter 2:2-10