When Thomas asked Jesus for guidance,
Jesus answered, “I am the Way”
When I worked in the Spiritual Care Department of the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, we responded to the needs of all patients no matter what their background might be. We had a large staff with people from a wide variety of practices as colleagues but we couldn’t cover every shade of religious conviction on the whole human spectrum. So we had a list of people from different faith communities to call upon when a particular patient needed them. And some of these people also acted as advisers and teachers for us so that we could respond appropriately to each patient in the hospital.
One of these resource people was a local Rabbi. He said something one day in one of his talks that has stuck with me. He said, “You need to understand that Judaism is not a religion; it is a way of life.” I am not sure exactly what he meant by that but, at least in part, I think it means this: religion is not an optional department among all the departments of our lives, but a theme, a melody, an energy that runs through everything we are and do in every aspect of our lives.
And, broadening the term, spirituality is not just a concern for religious people but is an essential thread woven into the whole tapestry we call life. So, in our work in the hospital, we understood that Spiritual Care might include providing religious services and supports to religious people but that any crisis in life – including a medical crisis – raises the fundamental questions of life. Questions like:
- Does life have meaning?
- What gives me hope to see me through?
- What are my priorities in life and how does this experience help me to revisit and reorder my priorities?
- Does anyone really care about me?
- What memories and experiences in my life do I need finally to face up to and heal so that, if I die or if I live, I can move beyond regret and bitterness, hurt and secrecy?
- How do I deal with my anxieties and fears?
These are life questions, spiritual questions for sure, but not the exclusive domain of religious people only.
So, with all that in mind and as we turn to the Gospel reading for today, we need to understand something quite clearly. This may come as a surprise to you. Maybe even as a shock. But I am quite convinced that Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, did not come to teach us how to be religious; he came to teach us how to live – and to live fully and freely, authentically and abundantly.
To Jesus, God was not one thing among many things to be concerned about – and certainly not an option just for those who chose to fit God in; God was the foundational ground of his being and of life itself. In fact, Jesus could say from personal experience and with conviction and authority that his life was so rooted in God that there was really no difference between him and God. They were one. They were – they are – united in love and in harmony, with a common mind and a common desire that every living thing would share that life with them.
Jesus was a feet-on-the-ground mystic. He could live fully in this world but see another world breaking through. He could see with an inner eye the energy of God filling the spaces between obvious things his merely human eyes could see. In the silence between and behind the sounds of this world – both the racket and the music – his soul could hear the whisper of God’s voice speaking love to him. Jesus lived in harmony and union with God and desires that same experience for us all.
You might have noticed the words I often use in naming the mystery of Trinity in our Services. Before the sermon and in the blessing I might say this: “In the name of the Creator, the Word, and the Spirit, One, with all Creation.” I choose those words very carefully and very intentionally. They express for me a mystical vision of God enveloping and saturating all of life. Life in communion with God and God in communion with life. A God who is not distant and hard to reach, but an abiding presence. A God aching with desire for us to realize and experience and share such ever-present and ever-available communion. One, with all Creation.
I learned recently of a 15th Century work of art, an icon created by the Russian artist and mystic, Andrei Rublev.* It depicts the Trinity: in his rendering, three figures sharing table fellowship – in communion with one another. Rublev depicts God as a relationship, as a community of love. Now, for those who look closely at the original icon, there is a strange mark on the front of the table, an indication of some damage caused over the years. That blemish has puzzled art critics and devotees alike. Speculation now suggests that, when he created this masterpiece, Rublev had attached a mirror where the mark is. Do you see what that means? For Rublev, the mystery of God includes you and me, all of Creation. We cannot contemplate the mystery of Trinity – the fullness of God – without seeing ourselves in the picture, without being drawn into it ourselves as an intrinsic part of that relationship of love.
Jesus lived fully and naturally inside that mystical relationship of love, knowing God as intimately as a child at its mother’s breast, as lovers in each other’s arms, as a child mentored by its father, as best friends with no secrets from one another. And Jesus came to teach us how to find that same intimacy with God as he enjoyed.
From God’s side, that intimacy is already there. No one – nothing created – is outside that circle of love. But we do not intuitively know that intimacy. We might feel estranged from God. We might feel apathetic towards God. We might not feel worthy of God. We might not even believe in God. But deep down, our souls long for that union with the source of our being, even if our minds don’t register that yearning or clearly understand its goal. We might try to satisfy that yearning with something else, trying this and that as a substitute because we know we want something but we just haven’t figured out what the message is our soul is sending us. The yearning in God to be in full communion with each of us and all of us sent the Christ into the world to awaken in us that yearning and to show us how to satisfy it.
I think this is what Jesus meant when he called himself “The Way”. He came to teach and to model a way for all of us to live into that deep intimacy with God we all long for – and that God longs for us to enjoy. If a journey has a destination, then there is a route to get there, a road to take, a path to follow, a map to guide us. The destination for our lives is to live in loving, joyful communion with God in every aspect of our being. Jesus has come to help us find and follow the path that leads there among the maze of confusing trails that criss-cross our world. Simply put, Jesus teaches us the way to experience intimacy with God, which is the destiny of all living things, for in God’s house, there are many rooms, a spacious hospitality that leaves no one out.
“Why wait?” Jesus seems to be saying. “I’ll show you how to join me in that communion of love right now.” “Come, follow me on the Way – a Way of solitude and prayer balanced with compassionate engagement with those who are hurting; a Way of humility and servanthood in a world run on power and self-advantage; a Way of peace in a world of violence; a Way of freedom in a world of rules; a Way of imagination in a world of convention; a Way of awe before the mysteries of Creation; a Way of gratitude for the abundance around us; a Way of inclusion for those who don’t conform.”
And that has so little to do with religion narrowly defined with all its limiting restrictions, and so much to do with life lived fully and authentically and freely, in joyful communion with the Creator, the Christ, and the Spirit, in joyful communion with one another and with every living creature, and in joyful communion with every particle of Creation itself.
In the name of the Creator
And the Spirit,
One with all Creation.
(* I am grateful to Richard Rohr for this learning – from his book, “The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation”)
The Rev. Ted Hicks
St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church
Prince Albert, SK
Family Sunday, May 14, 2017