Psalm 31:5 — Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth.
John 14 — Jesus said, “Do not let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me …. I go to prepare a place for you …. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life …”
In the Gospel reading from John and in the Psalm for today the word “truth” appears in key verses of those passages from the Bible: Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life ….” The Psalmist confesses faith amidst hardship: “Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth.”
How do we come to know the truth? From the appointed scriptures on this fifth Sunday of Easter — taken together — there is a sense that truth-knowing is discovered and proclaimed not in ideal, perfect scenarios born from our wishes and dreams, but from paying attention right in the middle of experiencing difficulties and challenges of life. And these places of our lives are not easy places in which to stay. Because we’re always trying to get out of those places — places of dis-connection, dis-orientation, transition, fear, anxiety, surrender and loss. And understandable so.
If there is any stage of life most closely associated with “transition” — it is those tumultuous teen years. So, teenagers can teach us something about how to live in the “inbetween” times and spaces of our lives. They know this space: No longer in the relative safety of childhood, and now crossing into the terrain of adulthood.
The inbetween spaces of life are like doorframes — a space between rooms, a portal joining inside and outside, this room and that hallway or other room. These are not spaces we normally think to spend lots of time in; in all honesty we don’t think twice about moving as quickly as possible through that space. Perhaps that is one reason so many people don’t have a lot of patience for teenagers.
One of our young children loves to spend time standing in door frames or sitting on staircases. This drives Daddy crazy. “Either you’re out or your in,” I keep telling her. “Close the door.” “Don’t play on the staircase! Stay downstairs, or upstairs; don’t just be moving inbetween all the time!” Yup, children and teenagers can teach us adults a thing or two about living in the inbetweens of life.
The disciples of Jesus had some-how to come to terms with their shattered dreams — dreams of a messianic strongman that would come and rescue them from Roman occupation in 1st century Palestine. In the time surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples were living in a time of transition and change.
But not only are we talking about “dreams shattered”, but also “hearts broken”. Here, we enter more into the emotional arena of our lives. A tricky terrain, to be sure. But a place that, since ancient times among the Hebrew people of God, has been considered the centre of our being: the heart.
The message in this Easter season invites us to enter into that inbetween space of finding the way amidst our broken hearts, our disappointments, our failures, our fears and anxieties. Is there a cure for heart dis-ease? The message of Easter is an invitation to finding the places where the risen and living God in Jesus guides and leads us beyond places of despair, and into a future of hope and wholeness in community with God and one another.
Discovering, or re-discovering, the truth about Jesus and God the Father, as I said, comes first not from a place of security and perceived strength. But from exactly the opposite kinds of circumstances in our lives. The Psalmist, time and time again, captures this spiritual and faithful reality. In Psalm 31, the Psalmist is able to confess the God of truth only by coming through the space and way of great distress, suffering and anxiety. That passage concludes with the claim of faith: “Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth.” The Psalmist is able to believe in the truth of God only after embracing that undesired, un-sought-after existential angst of being, and surrendering all of it to God. Not easy.
Because sometimes we want to hold on to it, wallow in it, remain stuck in the rut of despair and anguish. Perhaps because it’s familiar ground. But it is precisely in this inbetween place where we discover and then confess the truth of the gracious, loving, merciful and hope-giving Christian God in Christ Jesus.
In a prayerful and faithful re-telling of Psalm 31, Leslie Brandt (“Psalms Now”, Concordia Publishing House) writes, “Maybe it was Your doing, Lord. It is Your way of bringing me back to home port, of correcting my focus and reassessing my goals.” She speaks, of course, of those heart-breaking failures and losses not as God-caused events, but as natural life circumstances in which God’s purposes and presence are born anew.
In the Gospel reading from John chapter 14, Jesus opens this passage with those comforting and well-known words often recited at funerals: “Let not your hearts be troubled …”, and then goes on to create that popular image of Jesus going to prepare a place for us all.
The disciples, however, want to cling to the perceived safety of an actual, geographic location. Thomas, for one, wants to know where Jesus is going and how to go there with him. Their understanding of “place” is bound by measurable and observable criteria. Their understanding of a “home” is equated with the safety of familiar, concrete places and spaces.
Throughout the Gospel of John, however, place and location are used simply as metaphors for the intimacy of a close relationship: For example, the sheep are placed close the the shepherd; Jesus is close to the heart of God the Father. As the disciples are gathered in the Upper Room sharing a meal that signifies Jesus’ soon bodily departure from them, Jesus assures his friends and followers that there will always be a place with plenty of rooms for them. Their relationship with Jesus will continue, even as it changes. Their relationship with Jesus will continue, even beyond suffering and death. They will not be forgotten as they remember him every time they share in the Holy Meal.
The church, to be sure, lives in a time of transition. These very decades we occupy comprise a time of living in the inbetween. Something old is passing. Something new is beckoning. It is the time of not-yet-but-soon-to-be. It is frought with fear and anxiety, suffering and loss.
Yet, it is the place and space where Jesus is present. Jesus’ farewell discourse to the disciples is not just a nice thing he says to make them feel good, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” It is a direction to the disciples’ will. Jesus is giving them a command to stand firm, even when their hearts are breaking for their coming loss.
Jesus is real, and close by, even as everything changes, even as your relationship with Jesus changes, even as everything around us changes. This is the divine promise. This is the truth: Jesus is still with us.
And that is why we gather week after week to celebrate the presence of Jesus in the Holy Communion. In our tasting and eating and seeing the bread and the cup, we constitute — literally — the church. In our participation of the Holy Meal, we receive the new life of the risen Christ. In the eating and drinking, we “taste” and “see” that the Lord is good! Our hunger for God’s intimacy is satisfied. We are a community fed by God, so that we can with hearts of thanksgiving and hope, feed a hungry world.
In so doing and being, we re-discover the truth of God, find a way beyond our heart dis-ease, and live in the community that God calls us to and empowers us in his Spirit to share with the world.
How do we come to know the truth? We know the truth by coming together. We know the truth by engaging and embracing the sometimes messy situations of interacting and being together. Notice, in the scripture from 1st Peter, the address is given not to an individual, but to an assembled people; Together, we are then in truth, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…” (1 Peter 2:9) Together, in this time of transition, we will re-discover the way, the truth, and the life in Christ Jesus our Lord.