28 April 2013
Fifth Sunday of Easter
Easter 5C (RCL)
Jesus tells his, “As I told the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ so now I say it to you.” Wait. What? Just a couple of paragraphs later, he will say, “If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Which is it?
Where Jesus is and remains forms one of the major themes of John’s Gospel. When John the Baptist point out Jesus to two of his own disciples, they follow Jesus, and he turns and asks them what they seek, they ask, “Rabbi, where do you stay (remain)?” This if the first dialog in John’s Gospel in which Jesus takes a part. The Gospel will seek to answer this question. Where do we find God? Particularly now that the temple is gone, where does God/Jesus remain?
Twice, Jesus tells the Jews that where he is going, they cannot come. The first time (John 7:33ff), they wonder if he is going out among the diaspora. But surely they could follow him there. The second time (8:21ff), the wonder, “He is not going to kill himself, is he?” Now, in chapter 14, he tells his disciples, they cannot come where he is going, only to take it back in chapter 14. Finally, in Chapter 20, he will say to Mary Magdalen, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go and tell my brothers that I am my Father and your (pl.) Father, to my God and your (pl.) God.” So the Gospel takes us on a long narrative arc, to show us that it is Jesus who enters into the presence of God, rather than the high priest. In the tomb, Mary sees two angels arranged like the cherubim over the mercy seat. We are on our way with Jesus (just not there yet?) into the presence of God.
It is fascinating that Jesus does not say this to his disciples (where I am going you cannot come) until Judas leaves the room. From that moment on, Jesus’ interaction is only with his disciples. The circle has been closed. In his resurrection appearance to the gathered disciples, they are again in a room with the doors locked for fear. After Judas has left the room, Jesus gives them a new commandment, to love one another as he has loved them. The effect of this new commandment at the moment Judas leaves, is to make it a rule that applies only within community: Love one another, you here in this room. All too often, we stop here. The church becomes inward looking, a community taking care of its members.
But when the resurrected Jesus shows up in the locked room, he breathes on the gathered disciples and tells them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. The sins of whoever you release are released to them. The sins of whoever you hold onto are held onto.” We, the church, become both the inner sanctum, and the high priest who enters it in order to release the sins of the people, to incorporate them into the community. Once Jesus has prepared the way, he expects us to follow him, to love one another, as he loved us, entrusting our life to our friends, laying down our life for the world. So the Jews question, Does he intend to kill himself doesn’t seem so crazy after all. He intends to entrust his life into our care, into our midst, lay it down for the life of the world.
In Chapter 12, certain Greeks show up seeking Jesus. Philip and Andrew approach, and Jesus answers with a cryptic saying about grains of wheat falling into the ground and dying to bear fruit. Then those Greeks disappear from the narrative. Where are they? Waiting outside the doors for us to respond. If we, the church, are willing to surrender our identity, lay down our life, in order to bear fruit, we will let them in (let go of our grudges).
Peter is faced with that choice in the Acts reading. Should the church remain Jewish, or can it surrender its identity and bear fruit. Who am I, asks Peter, to stand in the way of the Spirit. When Jesus promises (in Chapter 14) there where he is, there we will also be, he says, “In my father’s house are many resting places (mone). The word means resting place in the sense of a stop along a journey. The “where” of Jesus’ going isn’t a place. We may stop now and then along the way, but the identity of the church must be always evolving, always bringing in new people, accepting their stories, so we can be on our way to our God and their God, just as Jesus is.