By the Reverend Dr. Gillian Klee
Reflection at 5:30 p.m., May 14
It was the funeral of the Emperor Franz Josef of Austria. He was to be buried with his Hapsburg ancestors in the burial vaults in the Capuchin Monastery in Vienna. A grand procession made its way past the crowds to the monastery gate. The herald rapped on the gate and from within the Abbot asked, “Who are you, who knocks?”
The Herald replied, “I am Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary.”
“I don’t know you,” said the Abbot. “Who are you?”
“I am Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, of Bohemia, of Galatia, of Dalmatia, Grand Duke of Transylvania, and Margrave of Moravia.”
“We still don’t know you,” the Abbot replied. “Who are you?”
The Herald was puzzled for a second, but then dropped to his knees and said, “I am Franz Josef, a poor sinner, humbly begging for God’s mercy.”
The Abbot replied, “Thou mayest enter then.” And the gate was flung wide.
The Gospel passage for today is from Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples, preparing them for the time when he will no longer be with them in the flesh. Jesus tells them he is going to prepare a place for them and that they know the way to the place where he is going.
Now, let’s be clear. The disciples have never known where Jesus was going. They have always been surprised by his every move, even when he told them about it literally.
Now when he speaks figuratively they are completely lost. Only Thomas was brave enough to voice the question, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
Thomas was looking for directions.
Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father [“Abba”] except through me.”
Jesus is the Way in that he leads us to God and to God’s reign, although “the Kingdom” is not a theme that John’s Gospel pursues.
He shows us the way to live in relation to God and others.
John’s prologue identifies Jesus as the Word, full of grace and truth, the light of men which is the Truth.
He is the Life in the sense of being the Word at the heart of creation, the creative essence which is life. In him was and is life.
Now John knew little of Buddhists or Hindus and had certainly never met anyone who belonged to either of those faiths. Certainly, he had never met a Muslim, for the beginnings of Islam were five centuries in the future.
He was not trying to “one-up” any other religion or say that the members of other faiths were condemned and doomed. So, what did he mean by the statement, “No one comes to the Father except through me?”
He is saying that Jesus leads his followers to a unique relationship to God as Abba, an intimate relationship of child to beloved Father. He is the expression of God’s love for the world.
Follow Jesus for he is the Way. Believe the words of Jesus for he is the Truth. Live the values that he not only taught but lived for he is Life eternal.
Love as he loved for he embodies his Father’s love. He is the Cosmic Christ. Do not use these words of Jesus as a source of pride or an excuse for fear or oppression of others, for this is not following the way of Christ.
Remember the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“The world is overcome not through destruction, but through reconciliation. Not ideals or programs, nor conscience, nor duty, nor responsibility, nor virtue, but only God’s perfect love can encounter reality and overcome it. Nor is it some universal idea of love, but rather the love of God in Jesus Christ, a love genuinely lived, that does this.”
The door of the Kingdom does not open for the pride and power of emperors, but for the humility of sinners who seek eternal life in Jesus.
Let us pray. Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.