Way, truth, life: these are not abstract concepts but the embodied Christ in your lives, and also how the Triune God lives embodied in you.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday of Easter, year A
Text: John 14:1-14
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
That was Jesus’ answer to Thomas and to Philip. “I am.” He didn’t explain or teach them anything. He simply said, “I am what you are asking.”
Thomas wanted a map to where Jesus was going, the place with God. He wanted to know the way there.
“I am the way,” Jesus said. “And the truth. And the life.”
Philip wanted to see God for himself, the one Jesus called “Father,” to whom Jesus said he was returning. He thought if Jesus just showed them what he was talking about it would help.
“If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God,” Jesus said.
We reduce “the way, the truth, and the life” to theological concepts to understand and discuss. We talk about God the Father and God the Son and God the Spirit, as if the Triune God were an object to be studied, dissected, understood. But the Incarnate God-with-us points us in a completely different direction. “I am,” is what Jesus says.
I am the way, Jesus says.
The way of Christ, which Jesus often speaks of, is a way shaped like a cross, a way of vulnerable, sacrificial love. But it is not a way that can be laid out, mapped, with instructions, a list of actions you do. That’s the way the world works, but as poet W. H. Auden says, Jesus is a Way “through the land of Unlikeness.”1 Jesus doesn’t have a book called “The Ten Steps to Faithfully Follow My Way.” Jesus says, “I am the Way.”
The way of Christ begins and ends with looking at Jesus, the Christ, the Word of God. Jesus is a way of living, a way of loving, a way of relating to God and to neighbor. So you can’t know the Way until you live in the One who is the Way.
Poet and priest George Herbert describes Jesus the Way as “such a Way as gives us breath.”2 In your breathing-in Christ’s love and grace you begin to live Christ’s love and grace. You become vulnerable in your love because God is vulnerable in God’s love, and you’re breathing that vulnerability in, becoming what you already are in Christ. Love of God and love of neighbor then flows from you.
I am the Truth, Jesus says.
Jesus didn’t teach an abstract concept called Truth. He said knowing the Truth would set his followers free. And then he said, “I am the Truth.” I am what you seek.
Jesus embodies the Truth that God loves humanity deeply enough to join our life. All God’s true intention for the creation is known in Jesus, God in our own human flesh and blood, skin and bones. Every breath Jesus takes is God’s breath breathing in our life, and saying, “this is good, I love this.”
To know God’s Truth is not to have a fact to fight over, a possession saying you’re right and I’m wrong. To know God’s Truth is to know, in person, Jesus, the Truth of God’s love for you and for the world, who is real and alive and with you.
And this Truth is, as Herbert so beautifully says, “such a Truth as ends all strife.” When you live in the One who is God’s Truth there’s nothing to fight over. Instead you find, as Auden says, in the midst of the “Kingdom of Anxiety” in which we live, the home you’ve been looking for your whole life. A home of Truth that God is embodied in you and in all creatures.
I am the Life, Jesus says.
Last week Jesus said he wanted all God’s children to “have life, and have it abundantly.”
Now he says, “I am that Life.” To breathe in and become Christ’s Way, to imagine the Truth that your very life and body are beloved by God and inhabited by God, is to finally know true life.
“Such a Life as killeth death,” Herbert wrote. And not just death at the end of our mortal lives, though Jesus certainly promises that in this part of John’s Gospel. Jesus the Life kills death in all its forms, whether fear of a global pandemic that confines us to homes while sending others into deep danger, or any fear and anxiety that threaten us. Jesus deeply wishes for you to know him as Life now. Abundantly. In this “World of the Flesh,” as Auden puts it. Because death has no power over you even in this world.
I am, Jesus says. I am for you and I am for this world.
This is a wonderful gift in this terrible time of crisis, where every day we wake up to news that is worse, where we still haven’t reached the peak of this wave, where we don’t know how any of this will look when it settles down, and even when that might begin to happen.
Nothing can separate you from the love of God in the One who is your Way, your Truth, and your Life. Because now you live in “I Am” yourself. You embody Christ’s Way, Christ’s Truth, and so you know Christ’s Life. And your God-embodied life and love now say to your world, “I am. And you can be, too.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen
1 This, and subsequent Auden quotes: W. H. Auden, For the Time Being – A Christmas Oratorio, part 8, “The Flight into Egypt: IV: Chorus; in W. H. Auden Collected Poems, ed. Edward Mendelson; copyright 2007 The Modern Library, New York; page 400. Set as a hymn in Hymnal 1982, Episcopal Church U.S.A., hymn 464.
2 This, and subsequent Herbert quotes: George Herbert, The Call, stanza 1; in George Herbert – the Complete English Works, ed. Ann Pasternak Slater; copyright 1995 Everyman’s Library, Alfred P. Knopf, New York; p. 153. Set as a hymn in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ tune, hymn 816.