Fifth Sunday in Easter A
Preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Three Lakes, WI.
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
I seem to be on a movie reference binge these past few weeks.
One of my favorite movies is August Rush. I will not hesitate to admit that the movie makes me cry every single time I watch it. Trust me—I just tested this theory yesterday and, yep, cried.
August Rush is a modern urban fairy tale about a boy named Evan Taylor, an orphan, who sets out to find his parents. He has never met them before. He has no idea what they look like, where they live, or even their names. He knows absolutely nothing about them.
He doesn’t know that his mother is a professional cellist with the New York Philharmonic orchestra, or that his father is the lead singer of a rock band. He doesn’t know that they never saw each other after their one night together, and that they have no idea that he is out there somewhere.
What he does know, however, is that music is all around him—every whisper in the wind, every honk of a horn, clang of a wind chime. Music has been around him for as long as he can remember, and he is convinced that his parents can hear it too. With nothing more than this faith in music, he sets out on a blind journey to find his parents, although he doesn’t know the way.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of too many images that better describe the Christian life. The way isn’t always very clear, and we don’t like to admit that.
Those of you who were here the week after Easter might recall that I really like the disciple Thomas. He has this tendency to always say what everyone else is too timid to say, a quality I admire.
So when Jesus tells his disciples that he is going on ahead of them to some other place to prepare for their arrival, Thomas stands up and says what everyone else was thinking: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
I don’t blame him for asking this. Jesus is not only their teacher and mentor, but their friend and brother. More than once in my life I’ve had to leave all of the people I love behind, and people have left me behind. It is a terrible feeling, which I’m sure some of you have felt, too. Now imagine if it was Jesus leaving you behind.
How are they to know what to do next? Who is to guide them, shepherd them, care for them, and love them? They have left everything behind to literally follow this man on whatever paths he takes them, and now, they are going to be left on their own. He assumes that they know what to do next, but Thomas has the guts to admit that, no, they don’t, and that scares them.
Think of it this way: when I went to Israel and Palestine, we had a guide, Khalil. He took us everywhere, did all of our translating, got us in and out of places quickly and without any trouble. Except for one.
There is a building in Hebron that holds both a mosque and a synagogue. It is also the one place our guide was not allowed to enter by law. So he sent us ahead while he stayed behind. We hadn’t even gotten up the steps and we already felt lost. Suddenly, Khalil’s absence, which at first had seemed to be an inconvenience, was now a terrifying situation. We were walking into this building blind.
Very often, as Christians, it feels like we are off on a blind journey. Christ lived, died, and lived again 2000 years ago. We don’t know what he looked like. We have an idea of what he said. It’s been so long since anyone saw Jesus in the flesh.
And yet, we make extraordinary claims about a man we’ve never met. We claim that his life and death and return to life were not just events that occurred in a specific time and in a specific place for a specific group of people. We boldly claim that it was all for us, as well.
We boldly claim that, far from being removed to some remote historical circumstance, Jesus Christ is here and present with us today, right now, in this place, with this group of people. We go so far as to say that, in the bread and wine on the table, Jesus is physically, truly, and completely present, literally in our midst.
How can we possibly make such claims? How can we possibly know? How can we be sure that what we claim and what we profess to be true actually is, indeed, true?
And the answer to that question, brothers and sisters, is that we can’t.
I mean, think about it. We are just like Evan Taylor, who has never once seen or heard from his parents. Like the disciples, we are expected to know not only where we are going, but how to get there.
We don’t even have the advantage the disciples had, to be able to see and hear and touch Jesus face to face. They got to literally follow in Jesus’s footsteps, stepping in the imprints of his feet in the sand. And even they could not understand where Jesus was going.
Or, at least, they think they didn’t. In a rare departure from how the Gospel writers usually portray the disciples, here, Jesus expresses an unusual confidence in his disciples and their future.
“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
“You know the way to the place where I am going.” You know. You don’t think you know, but you do.
The disciples are thinking in terms of place, and the road they would have to walk to get there. But Jesus reveals to them what they’ve known all along. The know the way, because Jesus himself is the way.
What does Jesus mean when he tells them that he is the way, the truth and the life? Unfortunately, we’ve tended to add to Jesus’s words.
My words and teachings are the way and the truth and the life.
Living by the 10 commandments is the way and the truth and the life.
Belonging to the right denomination is the way and the truth and the life.
We’ve turned the way the truth and the life into a barrier that prevents entry, rather than the very thing that allows entry.
Because when Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life,” he means that HE is the way the truth and the life.
Jesus Christ is God incarnate, come to earth in the most intimate way possible, wrapped in bone and muscle and skin, walking through the dirt and the dust and the grass, breathing the air, bathing in the water.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” and he is right—Jesus is the way God got to us.
Suddenly, it makes more sense. What made Jesus different than just speaking through the prophets like God used to do is the intimacy, the personal nature of the incarnation. For the first time in the history of creation, God could and did touch creation in a way only creation can. God could and did form relationships with human beings.
All of this is well and good, though, for those who actually lived and could touch Jesus. What about us?
One of the great things about the movie August Rush is that Evan doesn’t need to have met or seen his parents to believe that they are out there, that they are looking for him, and that, eventually, he will find them. He never gives up hope, even when he finds himself in unpleasant circumstances and situations. He follows the music, and trusts that it will draw him to the ones he loves.
All of the Christian life is a journey. In that journey, we are drawn to Christ and God with nothing but our hope that we will finally meet God face to face. We are drawn by the Holy Spirit working through the promises of Christ passed down generation after generation: “You know the way to the place where I am going.” “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” “This is my body; this is my blood.”
Like the disciples, we may not think we know the way. But, like the disciples, God’s mighty deeds and loving acts through Jesus Christ gives us the courage to continue on the way, unable to clearly see the finish, but trusting that God is waiting there for us. Our faith, our trust in those promises, sustains us. No, not even that: God, who gave us our faith, who made those promises, sustains us. And with that knowledge and that assurance, we have nothing left to fear.
Featured Image: “A new and accurat map of the world” by the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0.