Reflection by Revd Sue McCoan
I wonder if you remember the TV sitcom ‘Are you being served?’, set in a department store. If so, you will remember Mr Humphries, played by John Inman, the sales assistant in gents’ clothing who was outrageously camp. Mr Humphries could always raise a laugh, when a customer asked how to find something, by saying ‘Walk this way!’, and then mincing off in an exaggerated fashion.
I mention this because it illustrates rather neatly the two meanings of ‘walk this way’: walk in this direction, as meant by Mr Humphries, and walk in this manner, as read by the audience. And we have both those meanings in our bible reading today, when Jesus talks about himself as ‘the Way’.
I hope I haven’t ruined this reading for you now, as it’s a particularly lovely passage from the gospel of John. Let’s hear the first part.
Bible reading: John 14:1-6
Jesus uses the imagery of a nomadic tribe. If you’re a tribe, settled in your camp, and it’s time to move on, you don’t pack everything up and then wander about with all your stuff while you find a new place. You let someone go ahead, find the new place, work out the logistics of where you’ll all go, and then come back and fetch the rest of you so you can just pack up and go straight there.
There were Bedouin tribes in the Negev desert who lived like this; the disciples got the picture. Unfortunately, they got it too literally, and thought Jesus was talking about finding them a new place to stay. It’s not. The place Jesus is going to is death.
It’s heartening that Jesus finds it as hard to talk about death as we do.
He wants the disciples to know that his death is not the end. He will be separated from them, from this human life, but that will take him closer to God the Father. And he will come back – in the resurrection appearances, he is there amongst them, saying ‘don’t be afraid. I have been to death and now you have nothing to fear from it.’
When our time comes to die, we need not be afraid, because Jesus will be there with us. Thomas wants a map and directions, but Jesus does better than that; Jesus is our guide and companion, throughout the transition from this life to the next. Jesus is our way home to the Father.
And it’s a big home. ‘In my Father’s house there are many mansions’, or many rooms. Perhaps better to say, in my Father’s encampment there are many tents, and always room for more. Jesus prepares a place for the eleven disciples but also for others who will join them down through the years… even for people who think there is no place in heaven for them. God is more generous and inclusive than we might sometimes think or wish.
Jesus is the way, the route, to another place, to our true home in God.
Jesus also shows us the way in the other sense: the way to live. Let’s hear the second part of our Bible reading now.
Bible reading: John 14:7-14
All this talk of being with the Father has set up a bit of a longing. We don’t want to wait until we’re dead. If only we could just see the Father now! Then we’d be happy.
Jesus has to say, you’ve already seen the Father. You’ve seen the Father in me. Every time I heal the sick, that’s God at work. Every time I feed the hungry, or restore someone to their family or to the community, that’s God at work. When I speak, it is God speaking through me. This is the way God appears in the world: through the things that are done in God’s name.
Jesus says, you see this in me. But God is also at work in you who believe in me. In fact, you will do even greater things than I have done.
Well, that’s quite a challenge. At first glance it seems absurd – how can any of us do greater works than Jesus? Perhaps we can’t, individually – but between us we can, simply because there are more of us. We can be in more places, we can show God to more people. I know many of you do really good things to help friends, neighbours and good causes. And we can do things collectively.
For instance: Today, 10th May, is the start of Christian Aid week. It will be very different this year – no house-to-house collections, the usual fundraising events cancelled. But Christian Aid is a brilliant way of showing God in the world. They have a particular focus at the moment on tackling the coronavirus in communities where they can’t keep a distance and wash their hands because they’re living in cramped conditions and have no soap or running water. Christian Aid is in there, with partner organisations who know the local conditions, working with and helping people of all faiths and none because that help is so badly needed. Christian Aid models our generous and inclusive God. So even if we can’t get out and do things ourselves, we can support this work through donations and through our prayers.
God is at work in us. Jesus says these things to his disciples to give them courage for the time when he cannot be with them in person. It gives us courage, for this time when we can’t be together in person. May it also give us courage to look ahead, planning for life after lockdown, finding ways to meet safely, and looking at what really matters, so we can be the presence of God in our world.
God is at work in us, and we need to own this. And we don’t do this in our own strength, but through the power of God, which is the power of prayer.