Where we’re going

5 May 2013
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Easter 6C (RCL)
Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
Revelation 21:10, 22 — 22:5
John 14: 23-29

In all of this conversation in John’s Gospel, in which Jesus has said he is going away and we cannot come, but he is going to prepare a place, and will take us to himself so that where he is we might also be, it would be understandable if the disciples (and we) got a little confused. At 14:19, Jesus says that in a little while, the world will no longer see him, but we will, “because I live and you live.” So, Judas, not Iscariot, asks, “How is it that you are about to reveal yourself to us and not to the world?”

If we remember that John’s community has been cut adrift by the synagogue community and both have been cut adrift by the destruction of the Temple, we can hear the anxiety in that question: “If no one else can see you, how will we know that we see you?” All of this fits into the overarching theme of “Where do you remain?” How can we be sure of God’s presence without the Temple? Jesus answers, “Whoever loves me will keep (treasure) my word, and my Father will love that one, and we will come to that one and make our dwelling (in Greek, mone) with that one.” Again, mone means something like truck-stop, a resting place along a caravan route.

John is referring back to the community on the wilderness way. God made God’s dwelling among the people in a portable tent. God tabernacled among them. In the prologue of John’s Gospel, that’s exactly what the word does among us: “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Dwelt, remained. And in the wilderness, the people would come to the tent morning and evening, and as long as the shekinah, the glory (the pillar of fire or cloud) remained on the tabernacle, they stayed along the way, rested, remained. But if the shekinah had lifted the people struck camp and tried to catch up to God’s glory, the pillar of fire or cloud. (If one thinks of the constant column of smoke rising from the altar of sacrifice in Jerusalem, and the illumination of that column by the fire, when viewed at night, one has a picture of the shekinah.)

That begins to make sense of the phrase, “In my father’s house are many stopping places.” John’s vision of the new community is not the settled community of Temple and sacrifice, but of the wilderness community and manna. No wonder in chapter six, after the feeding in the wilderness, Jesus compares to living bread, in contrast to Moses and the manna — this is a new wilderness community, but with a sacrifice in the eucharist.

The reading from Acts gets at the same thing — Paul and his companions go where the Spirit calls them. This is not a settled community, but a community on the move. Contrast that, however, with the vision of the heavenly city in the Revelation passage. Here we have a settle community. But there are two important facts to note. There is no Temple, and the gates are never closed by day (and it’s never night). When God is with us, we tend to want to stake God down to the ground. Solomon built a Temple and God’s relationship with the people changed forever. Now, they were always in the right, and if someone (like Jeremiah) dared to prophecy that God would work against Jerusalem, the official prophets had only to say, “The Temple, the Temple, the house of YHWH,” to assure everyone that God would never let anything happen to Jerusalem.

They (and we) also tended to want to pin God down to a specific people. We could shut the gates, and the people of God would be securely inside. The christian bible ends with a vision of a city: human effort and human community will be redeemed. We don’t “go back to the garden,” to a world without human artifice and culture, but the city has no Temple and the gates are never shut. We cannot pin God down to place or people. When the Lord gets ready, you got to move. And God is out there calling us to encounter the most unlikely people, Samaritans, Jews, Gentiles, dealers in purple goods. Where are we going next?

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