‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’, says Jesus to us in today’s Gospel reading. These words are part of his farewell discourse, his will, if you like, which Jesus leaves to his disciples before his passion and death on the cross. For Jesus and his Twelve Apostles, the life is far from normal. Dark clouds have gathered above them and it seems like the storm might not go away any time soon.
Over two thousand years later, our lives are also disturbed, our daily routines broken by the deadly virus that has forced many countries into a life of lockdown. It is not the same for us as it was for Jesus and his first disciples. We know about the resurrection, about the sure hope of eternal life in God. We sing that Christ is our cornerstone on which we build our lives. But we too are distressed and with the disciples listen to Jesus’ words spoken in theirs and ours troubling times: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’
We are in the upper room, not long after Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. It is a very dramatic setting. Outside the sun has gone down and the night has already taken over the day. One of the disciples, Judas, has just gone out of the room to betray Jesus to the chief priests and pharisees. Another one, Peter, was told that despite his willingness to remain faithful he will deny Jesus not once, but three times.
Can you imagine the tension in the room, the disciples’ levels of anxiety and confusion, their hearts pounding in expectation of what may happen next? And then out of the sudden Jesus says to them, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places’ (J 14.1-2a).
Jesus speaks into the dark night of their souls. He speaks the words of comfort and reassurance; and he asks them to trust that God has not abandoned them but continues to look after them in this life and in the next.
Jesus explains that what he is about to do is entirely for their sake. He says, ‘I go to prepare a place for you’, and he adds, ‘I will come again and take you to myself, so that were I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going’ (J 14.3-4).
The disciples struggle to understand what it is that Jesus is saying to them. He is talking about the way they need to take in order to follow him to the Father and they have no idea what he means. Where should they go? How? Cascades of questions run through their minds, and so Thomas finally speaks up on behalf of them all, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know they way?’ (J 14.5).
Let’s pause to think about it. The disciples who were closer to Jesus than anyone else say, ‘We don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?’
What about us? How long have we already been the followers of Christ? How many days, months, years or even decades of our lives have we been encountering our Lord in Word and Sacrament? What questions are cascading through our minds right now?
What place is your faith in Jesus taking you to during this difficult time of pandemic? Are you in a place of trust or despair, or perhaps somewhere in-between?
Are you like Stephen, of whom we heard in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, ready to die for your faith in Jesus?
Or are you more like Thomas and Philip, uncertain, seeking for answers to the questions you have been mulling over for years and now that you have more time on your hands have become even more pressing?
The answer Jesus gave to Thomas was a simple one, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (v.6).
Jesus explained that to know him was to know the Father also (v.7). And in this dark hour of distress, understandably, they didn’t grasp the meaning of these words. But after the resurrection they would know that to have faith in Jesus is to have a love within you that is stronger than death: the love nailed to the cross, but never defeated; the love that gives substance to our hope.
If we continue follow Christ, we don’t need to be afraid even of death, because we follow him to where he has already gone before us, to a dwelling place prepared for us by his own death, resurrection and glorious ascension. He will come again and will take us to himself. He is the Way to the Father; he is the Truth in the light of which we discover what love really means; he is the Life which can never be defeated even by the virus and lockdown.
Let us pray that the Holy Spirit may strengthen us in the sure hope of our faith as we continue to struggle with and fight the pandemic of Covid-19.
To end this reflection, I would like to share with you the words of the prayer written by St John Henry Newman. This prayer, often used at funerals, is a cry of trust in God’s protection and mercy:
‘Support us, O Lord, all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.