Jesus the Way to the Father
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 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 anything, I will do it.
That reading is often chosen for funerals. Sometimes Thomas’s puzzlement is shared by others. In my previous parish we had no churchyard and most funerals were at the local crematorium at Hanworth. There was another at Mortlake only about ten miles away, but a good half hour’s drive in normal London traffic. One day I was waiting outside the chapel, waiting for the previous service to end. As I stood there, a priest came up and waited with me. After a while I asked, “can I help you?” “No, I’m taking the next funeral.” “I don’t think so, I am!” Consulting his diary, he exploded, “Oh [expletive deleted] I’m supposed to be at Mortlake!”
This week the number of deaths from Covid-19 careers towards 30,000, already 10,000 above what was hoped for as a ‘good’ outcome at the outset. Put in context though, on average in England and Wales there are some 10,000-12,000 deaths every week. It is running higher than that now, but these huge numbers mask the individual tragedies that are happening. Recently my sister-in-law’s mother died and the funeral will be in my old territory in a few days’ time. In normal circumstances I would have been asked to take the service – I conducted one for her father a few years ago. I
don’t think it was anything to do with the virus and she was well into her nineties, but even so death creeps up to surprise and unsettle us. It is an individual tragedy – fortunately close family will be able to attend – but for many in these strange times no mourners are allowed. Just at the time when one wants to give comfort, social distancing says ‘no!’ But do not let your hearts be troubled, says Jesus.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” so starts Charles Dickens Tale of Two Cities set in Paris and London at the time of the French Revolution. “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Today we also have winners and losers. For some, such as me, little has changed. I work from home and work continues. Others have lost jobs or are furloughed. They fear for the future, wondering if they will be needed again. Some face the ruin of their businesses; others are trying to re-invent what they do. Some are in great demand – the delivery drivers, supermarket workers and of course health workers. Some may appreciate the novelty of being truly valued, but for front line health workers they face, perhaps for the first time in their career, the real prospect that they will lose their own life in the course of helping others. As Jesus says in the next chapter of John, ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. They have always lived with death, but in this crisis it is with them day after day, one third of hospital admissions with the virus results in death, and as they go home to grab a few hours respite, they know that death will be with them again the next day.
The only inconvenience we are suffering personally is that we cannot travel to see family and friends. But when I was a boy, living in Poole, my paternal grandparents were on the Wirral and once a year my father would borrow a car from a friend and we would drive up to spend a week with them. It is a small sacrifice to pay when others are stuck in tiny homes with no gardens and no nice countryside to walk in. Others are cooped up with frustrated and violent partners. Yet more are homeless on the streets, turned out of accommodation because they cannot afford the rent. Unlike the long term homeless they are rather naïve about the ways of the streets. Some are lucky, because many empty hotels are being brought into service to house the homeless, but for those left on the streets there are no commuters to toss out coins, there are no sandwich shops turning out unsold bread at the
end of the day, there are no toilets, no day centres, no abandoned cardboard to make a bed and many subways closed off.
In the face of all that is going on, we may feel totally inadequate – what can we possibly do? Jesus says, ‘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 anything, I will do it.’ We can pray – do not underestimate the power of prayer – we can be nice to people. Across a suitable social distance we can shout words of encouragement. We can look out for each other. In these ways we are doing the works that Jesus does – and in his own words, these are greater than the works he does.
I am sorry to have taken so much of your time today, but let us close by praying the collect for today, the feast of Philip and James.
Almighty Father, whom truly to know is eternal life:
teach us to know your Son Jesus Christ
as the way, the truth, and the life;
that we may follow the steps of your holy apostles Philip and James,
and walk steadfastly in the way that leads to your glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.