Sunday, May 14, 2017

Easter 5

Readings: Acts 6:1-7; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about a place
and a way to that place.
The place is his Father house,
in which “there are many dwelling places”—
a place, we may presume, of joy and peace and rest
that Jesus goes to prepare.
The way to that place is Jesus himself:
“Where I am going you know the way…
[for] I am the way and the truth and the life.”
Moreover, the way is the place:
Jesus says to Phillip,
“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…
Do you not believe that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me?”
If we journey with Jesus as our way,
we have in a real sense already arrived
at the place toward which we are journeying,
because in him we truly encounter
not only the way to our destination
but the truth and the life
that is the goal of our journey.
The way is the place
because the God whom we seek
has sought us out in Jesus Christ
and made himself our way.

But it is perhaps too easy simply to say
“the way is the place,”
too easy to mouth clichés
about the journey being the destination,
because I think we all have a sense
that our journey is not yet complete,
that there is a difference between being on a journey
and having reached your destination,
that along the way we restlessly yearn
for that place of dwelling, that place of rest.
Our experience of the truth and the life of Jesus our way
is fragmented and incomplete:
we struggle to know the truth and are beset with doubts;
we live our lives in the midst of death and loss.
How can our place of dwelling be found in Jesus our way
when each day our experience tells us
that we have not yet arrived at a place of truth and life?

St. Augustine pondered this question
by asking why it was that Jesus said
that he was going to prepare a place for his followers.
If, Augustine asked,
there are already many dwelling places in his Father’s house,
why should Jesus have to go prepare a place for us?
What could it possibly mean
to make our heavenly dwelling ready?
Is Jesus like some (probably underpaid) hotel worker
who goes to turn down the beds and put mints on the pillows?
No, Augustine said, “He is preparing places of dwelling
by preparing those who will dwell in them” (Tract. in Io. 68.1).
The heavenly dwelling place is made ready
by making us ready to be the dwelling place of God.

Our second reading, from the First Letter of Peter,
exhorts us: “like living stones,
let yourselves be built into a spiritual house
to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
The imagery here is that of the Jerusalem Temple
where God dwelt, not as a place in which God was confined,
but as the special—we might even say sacramental—place
in which God could be encountered:
where God’s outreach to humanity
attained a particular intensity,
a notable pungency,
a special efficaciousness.
But now, St. Peter says, we who have faith in Jesus,
we who embrace him as our way, our truth, our life,
have become that holy temple,
that place of encounter;
we who gather to share the body of Christ
become what we receive:
the dwelling place of God.
The way is the place
because we who are on the way
have become by grace the place in which God dwells,
and the ones in whom God dwells
are those who dwell in God.

What does all of this mean for us?
If the way is the place of truth and life,
then we must have faith
that even when we experience doubt and loss along the way
these too are somehow, mysteriously, part of what it means
for God to dwell in us and us to dwell in God.
We hold stubbornly to the faith
that the struggles of the way are part of the process
by which God prepares that dwelling place
in which we offer spiritual sacrifices,
the dwelling place whose foundation
is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen,
the “living stone, rejected by human beings
but chosen and precious in the sight of God.”

This is true of us as individuals:
in ways that we may never be able to fully fathom,
our doubts and our confusions,
our losses and even our dying,
are God preparing us to be the place in which he dwells.
This is also true of us as a community.
We are at a point at which we might be wondering
what the future holds for us as a parish.
What will the restructuring of the diocese
and the institution of pastorates bring?
What will our joining with the parish of Thomas Aquinas
mean for us here at Corpus Christi?
Almost surely it will mean
the loss of old, familiar ways of doing things:
a different Mass time,
perhaps different leadership,
certainly different ways of thinking
about ourselves as a community.

It is only human to love the familiar
and to want to cling to it.
But Jesus today calls us by his grace
to let go of what has been,
to enter into his way of death and resurrection,
and to find there truth and life.
This does not mean that we will not experience
doubt or confusion,
the loss of old ways,
the death of the familiar.
But if we believe that Jesus the way
is our place of dwelling
then we believe that even loss of what has been
is part of God preparing that spiritual house
in which God will dwell in all his fullness.
We do not know what will happen to us on the way,
either as individuals or as a community,
and we very well may not understand the significance
of events as they unfold around us.
But we walk the way by faith,
not by sight,
and our faith is that even now
life springs forth from death,
for Jesus is risen
and his Spirit has been poured
into our hearts.