How curious to have readings (Easter Five. John 14:1-14; Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 17-18; and 1 Peter 2:11-25.) about death and a gospel reading that we associate with funerals as part of our unfolding understanding of the resurrection of Jesus and what it means to be part of a resurrection people!
Having readings about death as we celebrate resurrection and new life reminds us beautifully that eternal life begins now: that the promise that God has a dwelling place especially for us is not a reservation at hotel heaven in the future it is an eternal truth of the room in God’s very heart for us now and always, including but not only, beyond our physical death.
You may also like to read what I wrote last Easter Five Year A.
Maybe the easiest way to understand this is to visualise those places in the world where people dwell in caves or homes cut into the very earth. We have Cooper Peedy here in Australia where many people live underground in caves burrowed into the opal rich earth. Or the ancient first peoples of New Mexico, Utah and Colorado where whole multi storied villages were cut into the cliffs. Or the wonderful and strange houses built into chimney stack like rock formations in Cappadocia in Turkey. There have been cliff dwelling monks not far outside Bethlahem for centuries. Any number of examples of people who dwell in the earth, not merely perched upon it as most of us do. I wonder if they understand this gospel reading in a deeper more intimate way than we do?
We are invited to dwell in God, as God dwelt in Jesus Christ, as one would dwell in a home that was hewn from the mountain of God itself. We are to enter into a life, domestic, ordinary, within the presence of God as one who lives in a cave where everything we do, think, feel takes place within our home within the mountain.
This is not pie in the sky one day if you are very good and pass judgement day you can come and stay over at my house, hotel heaven. This is a loving intimate invitation to live our whole lives within the embracing presence of God just as Jesus lived an ordinary physical life always in the embrace of the presence of his Father, God.
If we understand this then we are ready to hear those words we think we know so well :”I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” So often Christians read this as “I am THE ONLY WAY, and THE ONLY TRUTH, and THE ONLY LIFE. NO ONE comes to the Father BUT BY me.” People have capitalised certain words in their minds and theology and turned this into a dogma that includes some and excludes most others on the planet. In so doing people turn an invitation to an intimate life giving relationship into a demand for a certain dogmatic belief. There is no support for this reading in this text. Greek does not have the capacity to have lower and upper case letters – they were all capitals when it was written! In Greek there is the option of using the imperative tense, the language of command, and it is not used here. It was used in verse one when it is forcibly expressed that the disciples were to keep on believing in God (as a response to the prediction that Peter would deny Jesus three time).
It is probably more accurate to hear: “ I AM the way, and the truth, and the life. No-one comes to the Father except THROUGH me… Have you been with me so long and not got that I live in God and God lives in me, therefore if you have seen me you have seen the Father. Live in relationship with me, live as I have lived, and you are in God as God is in you. Live, have faith, dwell in that knowledge.”
Long before followers of Christ were known as Christians they were known as people of the Way. Christianity has always been more about journey, relationship, an orientation in life, than a set of beliefs. Codified beliefs, such as our creed, are important and have their place in our communal life, but they should not be confused with faith itself. Faith is always about relationship, about travelling with and in Christ, about dwelling in God.
And is not that the way we have experienced it? As an ongoing relationship with Jesus our Lord and constant companion? As a deep knowledge that we abide or dwell in God and God’s good world?
A way that has times of smooth travelling through pleasant places with delightful companions and times of limping through fearful places of hardship seemingly alone. Our beliefs may stay constant or change with new understandings. But it is our relationship that we must be most careful of. Taking care to spend time in reflection and prayer, reading and musing, times of quiet stillness. Taking care to seek out the company of other spiritual seekers and those wiser than ourselves. Taking care to thank our Beloved as well as plead our case when we are desperate. And taking time to allow ourselves to be loved by God, time to take pleasure in the goodness of God’s creation, to meditate on God’s loving actions in our life. And most of all to see all that we do, think and feel as taking place within our relationship with God -–to dwell in God and to know that God dwells in us.
Even so, come risen Lord Jesus Christ, and remind us that all our life is in the embrace of our loving God.