As bad as these last few weeks have been, there have been some beautiful learning moments coming out of all of this. I think we have learned that the Church is not just the building, and, as much as we love it, we do not need the building to provide worship. We have also learned that we can create a community in a virtual world, sure, not a good as in-person contact with people but, it can be done, and it will be vital moving forward.
But one of the greatest gifts we have been given in all of this, for me anyway, is the conversations I have had with my fellow clergy in various forums. We have shared ideas, fears, dreams, and technological challenges. We have gathered in prayer for each other and our communities. And we have shared theological ideas and had fantastic discussions.
One of those discussions was the idea of hope. A question was raised about the difficulty of preaching about hope during a pandemic. “Do we find it difficult to continue to preach hope amid pandemic?” I had to take a long pause and think about this, and my response thankfully was joined by others. “As difficult as it may be to preach hope, I have no other option than to preach hope. Hope is what the Gospel and faith are all about, and if we lose hope, if we give up on the idea of hope, we give up everything.”
In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, we have Jesus talking with his disciples for the last time. Jesus knows what is coming and, in some way, his disciples also understand what is happening. Jesus had told them that he will die, and they are anxious. Maybe they are anxious for him; maybe they are anxious for themselves. But regardless of their anxiety, Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
Anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress and stressors, so, understandably, we all might feel a little anxiety these days. However, if anxiety builds, it can turn into trauma, and that opens a whole different set of problems, so we need to be vigilant in our task of keeping our anxiety in check as best we can.
So, Jesus is bringing what comfort he can to his disciples. He tells them that he is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house that has many rooms. Jesus tells them that they already know the way. Of course, they think this will be a physical journey, but this is a spiritual journey. Jesus tells them the way, and Thomas questions Jesus about the direction.
Jesus tells Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Jesus tells Thomas that he is the way, what is this way? In my way of looking at it, this is not “the way” in the physical sense as in, “You need to follow me, personally,” but rather, Jesus has left us a way to follow, and that is what he is speaking about here. So again, I ask, what is that way?
For me, it is quite simple, love God with your entire being and love your neighbor. This is not always an easy bit for me; it is central to the life of a Christian, and it is central to the Gospel. The entirety of the Gospel message is about love. God so loved the world. Love God. Love your neighbor.
As many of you know, I have been on deployment with the National Guard providing Chaplain services for the members of the National Guard as well as the staff of several centers treating COVID Patients. Every day I have witnessed extreme acts of love toward neighbor. The medical folks will tell you they are not heroes; in fact, many of them bristle as the very idea of being called heroes, but these folks are going above and beyond what their jobs require them to do.
I have heard stories of nurses and doctors sitting with patients so they will not be alone when they die. Police and firefighters risking their lives to transport COVID positive patients and then needing to be separated from their families in quarantine, but they continue to come to work each day. And these are just a few stories. These are regular folks rising to the challenge of loving their neighbor without question and qualifications.
Friday was the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the ending of World War II in Europe. Europe had been devastated by the war that had ravaged those nations, and the world for years. Everywhere people looked, buildings, including Churches and other cultural institutions, had been destroyed. There was rubble in the streets of every major city and town, and it all seemed rather hopeless. But people started to rebuild, one brick at a time. People began to clear the streets, one brick at a time, and before long, those beautiful cities rose from the ashes. Do not let your hearts be troubled; trust in God.
The way of love is the way to know Jesus and to know God. The way of love is our judgment, have we done enough to show that love toward others as a church and as individuals? The way that Jesus is talking about here is the way of love, and it is that love that will bring comfort and peace to his disciples and us in our anxiety.
I have said this before, and I will continue to say this, there is nothing we can do, nothing that will ever separate us from the love that God has for each one of us. The love of God is unconditional; God does not even require us to show that love in return for God to love us. God loves us in good times and in bad times. God loves us in the highs and lows of our lives, and there is nothing that can change that.
I know things might look bleak and uncertain during these days, and I know what the anxiety level of many of us is higher than it usually is, but I also know that we will get through this, together. I am very hopeful about the future. I am looking forward to the next chapter. I believe the Holy Spirit is calling the Church to do something more significant than we have done before. I think that a new, fresh wind is blowing through the Church at this very moment and that Pentecost is right around the corner. I am so very hopeful, and we cannot let despair take over, we must remain steadfast to our call.
The enduring witness is the words that Jesus spoke at the start of the Gospel passage this morning, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Yes, we are concerned, and yes, the future is very uncertain, but my heart is not troubled because I know that God loves me and that God loves you, and it is that love that will see us through to a brighter day.