Sunday, May 18, 2014

the way, the truth, and the life

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today is a very popular one at funeral services – although perhaps 'popular' may be the wrong word to use. Commonly chosen might be a better way of putting it. And it is not surprising that it should be so, because in that reading Christ speaks words that are of great comfort to those who have lost a loved one and are grieving because they know that they will not see that loved one again in this life. But we need not let our hearts be troubled, as our Lord tells us, because in his Father's house are many dwelling places, and he himself goes to prepare a place for us. More, having done that, he will come again and take us to himself so that where he is we may be also.

And these words of Christ are comforting for several reasons. First because he assures us of life after death; and second because he assures us that he himself not only has prepared for a place in heaven, but will also come again and take us there himself so that we may be with him there forever. The third reason it comforts is by implication – if all who are faithful to him have the hope of eternity with him in heaven, then even as we have that hope for ourselves, we may have it for those we love, and therefore may hope that we will one day meet with them again there in that place were tears and sorrow are no more as the Revelation to St John the Divine has it.

But – and there is always a 'but' – we must ask ourselves if it is reasonable or rational to accept Jesus' words of comfort in this part of our reading while rejecting or ignoring what he says elsewhere in this same passage. In particular I am thinking of his words when he says 'I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through me.' There are many ways of interpreting what Christ is saying here, but a fairly obvious reading is that he is saying those who wish to have the eternal life with the Father that he promises must accept Jesus as Lord and follow his teaching. And this is a hard teaching for the modern ear – it sounds so exclusivist. We don't like that kind of thing, especially not claims about absolute truths. 'you have your truth; I have mine' is something of the catchphrase of our times; with those who take Jesus' words here seriously likely to be condemned. 'Who are you,' they say 'to say that Jews or non-Christians' can't go to heaven?'

This is not, of course, what the Church teaches. Those who for no fault of their own do not know Christ or the Church he founded cannot be held accountable for that; God sent his Son into the world to save all men; and Christ said that on the Cross he would draw all men to him; those who seek God with a sincere heart, and try to do his will as best they are able, may well enter in his Kingdom. After all, it is not for us to claim we know who does and does not go to heaven – God is the sole judge of that.

But – again another 'but' – that is not the same as saying all faiths are the same. Christ told us he is 'the way, the truth, and the life' … and the way he offers to eternal life is a narrow, difficult way, but it is a sure way; we can not simply shrug our shoulders and leave those who do not know his path to their own devices. His way is hard, but it is sure. And we who are called to make disciples of all peoples have an obligation, driven as much by duty as by love, to share that way with everyone.

In any event, what might we do to accommodate those who find such words uncomfortable? Edit Scriptures? Change Church teaching so that it ignores Jesus claim to be the way, the truth, and the life? We have no authority to do either. And if we acted as if we did, where would such accommodations end? Would we eliminate the doctrine of the Trinity, simply because many find it difficult to understand? What about Jesus being fully God and fully man? The Virgin birth; the fact that he rose from the dead; our understanding of the Eucharist being his body and blood; what the Church teaches about Hell; or that the Sacred Scriptures are the word of God? These things are all inter-connected – start to pull at one, and the rest unravels. What's left might be a lot less challenging, but it would also be something else – which is not the Church that Christ founded.

But just as we can take comfort from the words from today's Gospel at times of loss, as so many of us so often have, so too we can take comfort on occasions when we struggle to understand what Christ taught and passed down to us through the Apostolic teaching of his Church. We may not always understand, but we can trust his words are true. And if they are true, then we have faith in him and faithfully follow, trusting that on that day that we hope for, the day when we are with him in one of the many rooms of his Father's house we will fully understand.

To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed, who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen. 

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