Risen Christ your wounds declare your love for the world and the wonder of your risen life: give us compassion and courage to risk ourselves for those we serve, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
The Way, The Truth and the Life – the Exit Strategy
written by Mother Katie
As I write this we await to hear from our Prime Minister about the exit strategy from the current lockdown – I suspect we hope he will show us the way – we trust him to tell us the truth – and we rely on these things to protect our lives and the lives of those we love.
In this passage Jesus is doing something a bit similar. He is talking to his disciples for they too are going to need an exit strategy from very difficult times.
Our Gospel today opens with the comforting lines “do not let your hearts be troubled” and this isn’t a flippant “do not worry about it” (in the original Greek you can see this much more clearly) rather it is a profound acknowledgment of the horror of the situation and it is a word used to inspire strength in the face of evil and death.
The disciples are going to shortly find themselves dealing with an unexpected horrific event – his death (and with it the death of their hopes and dreams) – after which they will be afraid and locked in their homes – worried for their own lives and needing to know how to carry on.
This is their exit strategy.
Jesus knows the events about to unfold are going to leave the disciples bereft, afraid and confused. “Do not let your hearts be troubled” he begins – in other words be strong – here is the plan.
They will need to know how to carry on – how to love the world – and themselves and their neighbours in it.
And so Jesus releases the plan and says “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
It is a great phrase isn’t it? Words you remember. But what does it mean?
You’d be surprised at how little is said in the commentaries to give us an answer – one even acknowledging that “Christian theology has still much to explore in expounding the richness of this verse.” (p 506, John Marsh, Saint John). But refusing to go any further than saying Jesus is the true way to live.
I agree with that, but let’s boldly go where the commentators refuse to tread this morning – and unpack it a bit further.
We start with Jesus as the way. And way of Jesus it seems to me always starts with going DOWN.
The creed says “he came down from heaven”, in the letter to the Philippians it says “he emptied himself taking the form of a servant”.
Going down is not an obvious way to go. When we aim to go somewhere in life we usually think of up. We talk of getting a step up, climbing the ladder of success, we speak of rising stars and friends in high places.
In contrast we talk of downsizing, the downtrodden, the down cast and the down and out – as things most would rather avoid.
But the Kingdom is upside down – and it was in the down parts of the world in the obscurity of a stable and in the pain and rejection of a cross that Jesus chose to be especially present.
Because by going down – he is able to reach those at the very bottom and then rise and ascend – to take them with him to return to the Father. In going down, we rise as many of the great spiritual writers have said. It is a paradox – that at first we might fear – but turns out to be all that we hope for.
This week in our evening prayers we have been using the liturgy of St Benedict – and he said “we go down through pride and up through humility.” Or the way up is actually the way down.
That is the first part of our exit strategy in our own times it seems to me. We have to make a priority for the poor, to help those most in need, to create a society that willingly goes down in order to lift others up.
That might mean living more simply ourselves and living with less – emptying not just our cupboards for a spring clean in lockdown but our minds and spirits to remove all of the vain and silly things we hope might take us up in the world and instead committing ourselves again to Christ and taking the form of a servant.
In our VE service this week on Facebook I loved the prayer of commitment after the silence – it went like this:
Before God We pledge ourselves To establish justice and peace, To feed the hungry and heal the broken, To welcome the refugee and the strange, To console the bereaved, To bring hope to those in want So that all may rejoice In the glorious liberty of the children of God. Amen.
The dog collar of a priest is sometimes compared to the ring around a slave’s neck. An Archdeacon once told me that it is to remind us of our status and our master. A way of saying my life isn’t mine anymore – it belongs to you Lord.
The way is down.
The second part of the exit strategy is to remember Jesus is the truth. He is the ultimate truth teller. Now I’ve met many truth tellers here at St James – we are not short of people who will speak their minds! Good for you. I really value that, for we only learn when we listen to each other.
And we learn most when we hear the truth of Christ.
He is the one, who if we let him, will confront and convict us of the lies we tell ourselves, the lies that are spoken over us and the lies that keep us wounded and bound.
And there is one truth I think as followers of Christ we need to know above all else – and that is that we are loved. Truly, madly, deeply loved. And from this simple and deep truth all fruitful ministry grows and all abundant life is lived.
Jesus himself begins his ministry at baptism with the words of the Father from heaven – “this is my son in whom I am well pleased.”
God is pleased with you – he isn’t disappointed this morning with what you have achieved in lockdown. He isn’t disappointed when he looks at you trying your best in this time and sometimes failing – he is pleased. Pleased. He knows your heart and he loves you.
From this affirmation of love Jesus goes on to the most remarkable ministry – and in today’s reading he promises that those who follow him will achieve even greater things. That is a verse sitting with – and daring to believe! But I suspect only if we hold on to the truth that we are loved – God is pleased with you.
For Jesus the first temptation in the wilderness is not to do something wrong – but to doubt that affirmation. The Devil begins – if you are the Son of God….but Jesus knows he is – and is able to stay secure in his identity as beloved son and therefore resolute in his calling.
We need to do the same. Because from that place of love and affirmation – knowing who we are in Christ – the greatest ministries and lives of service are born and the greatest peace is given.
Which leads us to our last point in the exit strategy. Jesus is the life.
For forty days after the first Easter people were able to meet the resurrected Jesus face to face – to see eternal life not as a distant hope but as a lived reality – and our reading of Acts this month, inspired by Fr Clive, helps us draw nearer to that experience.
Fr Iain has been creatively working on the stations of the resurrection in lockdown – paintings which capture some of these moments – it must have been an incredibly powerful time.
I can’t wait to see them – art so often has a way of helping us bear witness to events in surprising and real ways – and as part of when we reopen the church eventually we hope to show them to you – as we meditate on what resurrection means to us in these times.
Romans 8 says that the power that raised Christ from the dead lives in us – we are not just saved people but resurrected people – living with the power of resurrection inside of us.
And our calling, it seems to me, is to realise that deep truth for ourselves and then be the people who show resurrection power in the world today – to be walking works of art if you like! For the world can no longer see Jesus in front of them – but it can see us – and it is watching and waiting for such a life. When you catch a glimpse of it in another it can be an incredibly powerful thing. I’ve been blessed to see it often in people, in books, in films and in art. It can be varied in form but it has the same effect every time – it changes you – and yet it makes you more you than you’ve ever been before. A holy life calls us to live who we were created be.
We are all called to follow the way, the truth and the life. We all fall short. But don’t let that put you off – as the Queen said in her VE speech – never give up, never despair. It isn’t easy to follow Christ but it can be more simple and ordinary than we think…Jesus made breakfast for those who abandoned him, he walked the road of grief with friends and just listened to them, he let another touch his wounds…and these things radically changed the world.
I am the way, the truth and the life. The way is down; the truth is you are loved; and life is the gift of resurrection power – living in us – to bring life from places where all hope is gone.
Grasp this – and I think we really can be people who help our country exit this time of crisis well and build a future society that is a little more like the Kingdom of God.
So this week do not let your hearts be troubled – trust in God and his exit strategy above all else. He sees you and longs to guide you through.