A Sermon preached on the Fifth Sunday of Easter 2011
To listen to my entire sermon:
“I am the way, the truth and the life.”
Whenever Christians are buried, these familiar words from the 14th chapter of John’s Gospel are often proclaimed. In fact, I read them just yesterday at the bedside of long-time cathedral member, Ann Austin, who died of pneumonia, surrounded by her beloved and devoted husband Tom, children and grandchildren.
These words proclaim that Jesus is our way to our God. They assure us that we have a place in the divine eternity, and they comfort us that everything will be all right. Thus, they are precisely the words that many of us need to hear at the death of a loved one. Yesterday, as we prepared to disconnect life support from a woman of extraordinary faith and deep spirituality, I needed to remind not only her family, but also myself, that God had prepared a place for Ann where her long struggle with illness would be over, where in my heart I believed she would be reunited with those who had gone before, and where in ways that I can’t begin to explain, she would meet the Risen Christ.
“I am the way, the truth and the life” resides at the heart of Christian faith. It has inspired much beautiful art and music, including George Herbert’s poem “The Call” set to the piercing melody of Ralph Vaughn Williams, a hymn sung at many an ordination and wedding.
But there’s a problem, and it’s the second half of the 6th verse: “No one comes to the Father except through me.” The question I pose today is can we, rather should we, proclaim these exclusive words in public worship, especially at a funeral where there are always strangers and often people of different faiths?
Should we, as followers of Jesus, assert publicly or even privately that we believe him to be the only way to the Holy One, to God who is Father, Mother and Creator of us all? If we can’t make exclusive claims about the way to God, what can we say about the salvation of our souls and the truth of our Gospel? These questions are important to raise and to wrestle with in the context of the post-Holocaust world of continued cultic, ethnic, racial and religious hatred, divisiveness, judgment and destruction.
Before considering these questions, however, I want to honor the text itself, and in doing so, to examine for a few minutes the context and meaning of this portion of the Fourth Gospel, and this verse in particular. Continuing what we began on Palm Sunday, I invite us to read this passage of our sacred story “against the grain.” Read the rest of this entry »