We have another set of rich readings this morning! Choosing a focus was not easy. My default is to go with the Gospel reading. And my favorite part of this morning’s Gospel reading is the exchange between Jesus and Thomas, so that’s what I will do. But I encourage you to read and pray through the whole set of readings this week.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus assures his disciples that they “know the way to the place where I am going.” But Thomas, for one, doesn’t agree. Thomas protests, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
We’ll get to Jesus’ reply, which is the big line for the reading. But first we need to sit with poor Thomas.
During Jesus’ ministry, his disciples never really understood who Jesus was or exactly what Jesus was doing. Despite Jesus’ repeated warnings, they definitely didn’t understand that Jesus would be crucified. Quite the contrary, they hoped Jesus would create an earthly kingdom and give them privileged places in it.
But that wasn’t going to happen, and right before our passage, Jesus has finally made the disciples see that it wasn’t going to happen. Jesus has just told them that one of them will betray him (13:21), that he, Jesus, will be with them only a little longer, literally just a few more hours (13:33), and that they cannot follow him where he is going, at least for now (13:36).
No kingdom. No hope. No Jesus.
That’s a lot to take in.
When Jesus says in our reading that the disciples knew the way to the place where he was going, it must have sounded like bitter mockery. They had thought they know where Jesus was going, but they were wrong. They had thought that Jesus would lead them there, but they were wrong about that, too. They didn’t know the destination. They didn’t know the way. They were lost, in the deepest possible sense of that term.
We all know something about what the disciples were experiencing in that moment. We have all been lost, and at many levels.
Where do you think our world is headed? I certainly don’t know.
How about our country? For most of my adult life, polls have asked if America is headed in the right direction. For as long as I can remember, my own answer has shifted from day to day. But it has always been the case that many people believe the answer is no, that we as a nation are not headed in the right direction, that we are lost.
Most painfully of all, virtually all of us experience times in our personal lives when we feel lost, when we don’t know where we are going or how we might get there.
Thomas speaks to that deep sense of lostness when he says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
But thinking about that deep lostness is hard. So, here’s a small example of lostness that is easier.
Two weeks ago today, Carrie and I were on a walking tour. Our tour guide had a spiffy microphone that spoke directly into headsets that we all wore so that we could hear the guide even at some distance and in the middle of big crowds.
On the tour, our group visited a Chapel along with—I am estimating here—thirty million other people. I was still looking around the Chapel when, through my little headset, I heard our guide announce that it was time to go. But I was a long way from the door, and I am not good at navigating through crowds.
As I struggled to get to the exit, I heard, with growing dismay, our guide ask if everyone was there, decide that we were, and leave. When they were outside the Chapel, I heard him say, “All together, this way.” Worst of all, I heard him say, “We turn here.” By the time I finally got to the exit, our group was nowhere to be seen.
It's not a good feeling to be lost, especially all alone in a strange city where you don’t speak the language.
I only had two options, so I one of them, hoping our group had gone that way and that I could catch a glimpse of them before they made another turn. Thankfully, I guessed right.
I, who had been lost, was found.
But what I quickly learned is that I hadn’t been nearly so lost as I thought. Or, rather, I had been lost. But the group was on top of it. Carrie had already called me a couple of times. I just hadn’t heard my phone ring. The sweeper of the group claimed she had an eye on me the whole time, although I kind of doubt that. My parents, who were in the group, too, were prepared to ask the guide to stop and go back for me.
I didn’t know where the group was heading or the way to get there. But the group knew where we were heading, and how to get there, and the group was going to make sure I got there, too.
Something similar is happening in our Gospel reading.
Thomas was lost, in a much more profound way than I was on my walking tour. Jesus knew that.
When Jesus said to Thomas and the others, “you know the way to the place where I am going,” Jesus didn’t mean that Thomas, or any single one of them, knew exactly where they were going or exactly how to get there.
Jesus meant the group as a whole knew the way. And, Jesus was promising, if the group as a whole got confused, together they could discern both the destination and the way.
That promise is still true. When we feel like Thomas, when we are lost, together we can figure it out. And when individuals among us are lost, like I was on my walking tour, our task as Church is to do what my group did, to help those who are lost find their place in the group so that together we can get and stay on track.
And now, at last, we come to Jesus’ answer when Thomas protests that he doesn’t know the way Jesus is talking about. Jesus corrects Thomas. You know me, and “I am the way.” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
We don’t need to know exactly where our world is heading. We don’t need to know for sure whether or not our country is going in the right direction. We don’t even need to know what will happen in our personal lives. What we need to know is Jesus.
When we are lost, as a group or as individuals, we come together in prayer and worship, so that we can renew our connection to Christ. When we see others who look lost, we invite them to do the same.
And as we come to know Christ better, we come to know our way. We come to know the deepest truth of our lives: that we are God’s beloved children, led by the Holy Spirit into ever deeper communion with Christ and with our heavenly Father.
We don’t know the details of where we are heading. We can’t know what twists and turns are ahead. But we are on the way, the way of Christ.
I thank God for showing us the way when we feel lost, for helping us to walk the way, and for promising to bring us home at last. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan