By His Death we Live

Text: John 14:1-14
Date: Easter V + 5/18/14

I suspect that those first Easter celebrants were still hiding behind those locked doors for fear of the Jews during these forty days, these strange days, even though they had seen the risen Lord Jesus alive again. For as joyful and wonderful as are these Easter days, there were still a lot of questions. Maybe more! Today we, with those first disciples, recall and ponder the words we heard Jesus say on the night when He was betrayed: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Of course their hearts would be greatly troubled the very next day. And our hearts are often troubled, too.

We remember with them that Thomas and Philip had questions. “Lord, where are you going?” And even now in the afterglow of Easter they still wonder, “Now what? Lord, where are you going?” Or, every time He disappears from sight, “Lord, where are you?” Are not those the same questions we keep asking? As we see the changing circumstances, the trials and challenges and issues all around us, around the church and around our individual lives we ask, “Lord, where are you going?” and often just, “Lord, where are you?” Today we hear Jesus’ answer. At first it seems He speaks to us about heaven. And He does. This text is often read at Christian funerals. But there’s more. For He is going to a place where He can, nevertheless, never leave or forsake us (Heb 13:5), where He can be with us always.

We love the apostle Thomas for he dares to ask the questions we’re really thinking of but are too timid to ask. Jesus spoke that night of his departure. The purpose, He said, was “to prepare a place for you,” from whence He will return to take us to Himself, “that where I am you may be also.” But where’s that? Where is He going?

Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Then Jesus said those memorable, comforting if mysterious words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Then the first hint of His intended destination when He says, “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.” To questioning Philip he says plainly, “I am going to the Father.”

Jesus is the way, the way to the Father. But what a strange way it seemed as, the next day, they would see Jesus leave them, not by His own will but by being arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced, executed dead and buried. But of course that is the purpose for which He came in the first place; the purpose of the Son of God taking on our human flesh, born of the virgin Mary, “made man.” It was so that He could offer His own holy life for our unholy lives, so that He could offer His own holy body “to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb 9:26).

But now it’s Easter. Now they had seen Him alive. Was He now going to take us to Himself that where He is we may be also? Silence. Forty days of silence. “Oh, we were astonished, then afraid, then overjoyed when we convinced ourselves that it really was Him that appeared to us in the upper room and on the road to Emmaus and to Peter and to ‘more than five hundred brothers at one time,’ and to his half-brother James (1 Cor 15:5-8). But now, where’d He go? Lord, where are you?”

I hope all of us remember times of spiritual enlightenment, times of spiritual energy, commitment and conviction; good times when it seemed God was blessing our lives, our church, our witness and hearing and answering our prayers. But then, to be honest, our hearts have often been troubled: troubled by the betrayal of friends, troubled by conflict in our marriage, our family and even in the church. There are varying degrees of trouble and anxiety of course. Sometimes it is as minor as just being annoyed at something or someone, and sometimes it is trouble we have brought on ourselves by our own ignorance or sinful actions. Other times are more serious as in a divorce or a death of a loved one or in any suffering for the sake of Christ by all sorts of persecution without and even within the church. All of us remember times of our asking, “Lord, where are you going? Lord, where are you?”

In all those situations (and the disciples would finally figure it out as they would see Jesus ascend bodily into heaven and as they would receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost) in all those situations they and we remember His last words to us, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Lord, where are you? The problem, often, however, is not that He leaves us but that we leave Him so that He has to, time and time again, come searching for us asking, as He did in the garden of Eden, “Where are you?” He comes to us by His Spirit in His word and sacraments.

The Easter disciples were to learn that Jesus was with them always even when they couldn’t see Him. So it was that those first believers continually “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). For it was there, in the Word of the teaching of the prophets and apostles that He speaks to us. It was there, in their fellowship of love as His body the Church that He would speak to us and to the world. It was there, in the breaking of the bread and the prayers, when we do what He commanded us to do, the sacrament of His body and blood and His command to pray that He Himself comes to live in us, His life in us.

Crucified, risen and ascended to the right hand of the Majesty on high, Jesus now lives and reigns, rules over the whole creation “seated at the right hand of the Father.” He rules with grace and healing in His wings. He rules with compassion and love and salvation for all who believe. He rules even in the midst of our wonder, even our troubles, fears or anxieties. “Lord, where are you?” “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”