When I was an undergraduate, for a brief period of time I studied German. I think I only took it for a semester because I was also studying Greek at the time and it was just too much to juggle in my brain. And our German professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, was a gifted and experienced instructor who actually retired shortly after I took his class.
So that semester we had a mid-term examination, which was a comprehensive test of everything we had covered since the beginning of the year. And the professor handed out the test, and the twenty or so of us students received the test, and he told us to begin. And I looked at mine and it was just way too hard. There were things on the test that looked familiar, I mean you knew the basics of the German. But there was also a lot on the test that I didn’t remember studying, and I was a good student, at least I thought, up until that point, that I was a good student.
And so I kind of sat there and wondered what to do and I answered the few things I could. And I looked around the room and I saw that almost every other student was also looking at their test in this quizzical way. It seemed like we were all confused. And after a couple of minutes, there was a young lady in the front row who raised her hand and said “Professor, is this the right test? Because I don’t remember studying any of this.”
And I thought, well maybe I am a bad student but at least here’s another bad student in the class. But the professor got up and went to the student’s desk and he looked at her test. And then he looked at us and said, well I’m sorry I’ve given you the wrong test. This is the mid-term for the advanced German class. Which made us all breathe a sigh of relief because nobody in that class knew the material. And I certainly wouldn’t have been the one to say raise my hand and say “What’s going on,” but thank God for that woman in the front row. She was our Thomas.
When Jesus appears to all of the disciples except Thomas, Thomas is the one who speaks up and says to everyone: I need to touch Jesus for myself. Thomas claims his space and his need to touch Jesus and perhaps he speaks for all the other disciples who also really wanted to touch Jesus. Thomas is the one who says what everyone is thinking. And today when Jesus in the Gospel says: you know the way to the place where I am going, Thomas is the only one who says- Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?
For some time in the Gospel, Jesus has been telling the disciples that he is going to go away. And just one chapter before this, Peter asks Jesus directly, Lord, where are you going? And despite all Jesus has said to them, and despite knowing Jesus as they do, it looks like the disciples are still confused and bewildered today by what Jesus says. It’s as if they are looking at this test which is clearly meant for students in the advanced class.
And when Jesus says: You know the way to the place where I am going, I can imagine him looking around at the disciples as if to check with them – you know the way, right? And I can imagine the disciples looking down at the ground, avoiding his eyes, checking their phones and saying to themselves: Lord, please don’t call on me, because honestly I have no clue where you are going and I don’t know how to get there. So thankfully Thomas is there to raise his hand and ask for help.
We all need help from time to time. It is confusing being a Christian just as it is confusing being a human being. Because we are set in the midst of life with few instructions and a constant barrage of things which are both overwhelmingly complex and impossible to manage. Like evil. How do you make sense of evil? Or the overwhelming violence in our country committed by people with guns. How do you unpack that? Or the huge and growing gulf between the rich and the poor. Or hatred and prejudice and discrimination in general.
On one level we can look at these things and can say – I know basically what’s right and wrong and I try and do right. But it’s still so complex. And I have no clue how to get to the place where we want to go and no idea what that even looks like.
And in our personal lives I’m sure we all have moments where it seems to us like we’re just failing the test of being Christians and good people and loving our neighbors and having faith, and all these things we might think everyone else in the room does so well. Maybe we look around and we think we are the only ones here who don’t get how to be faithful, and we ask: How did I end up here? I have no clue what it means to be a good follower of Jesus Christ. But then Thomas raises his hand to say, well none of us gets it, we all need help.
And so one conclusion we can make is that perhaps Jesus has just handed us the wrong test. That this life is way too complicated for us. It’s meant for the advanced class of Christians, like maybe the UCC people or the professionals like monks and nuns.
Or perhaps we could say that the opposite is true. Maybe it’s much more simple than we think, this business of life. And maybe we already know the answers. And I think that’s what Jesus is trying to show the disciples in this passage today – that the whole thing is actually pretty simple, and that they already know the way and have always known the way and the truth and the life which is found in Jesus Christ.
Throughout the Gospel according to John, Jesus continually uses “I am” statements. He says I am the Bread of Life, I am the light of the world, I am the door of the sheepfold. I am the resurrection. I am the good shepherd. I am the true vine. I am the way and the truth and the life, as he says today. And these are not just places where Jesus is bragging, telling the people who he is to acclaim himself as something great. But they are ways in which he is inviting us to himself.
When he says I am the bread of life, Jesus is inviting us to come eat this bread. When he says I am the light of the world, Jesus is inviting us to come bask in his glow. When he says I am the true vine, Jesus is inviting us to come and connect to this branch of the vine. Jesus describes who he is in these different ways because he wants to give us as many opportunities as possible to enter into a deeper and more meaningful relationship with him.
And this passage today is all about relationship. Having a relationship with Jesus Christ is not overly complicated or difficult. He’s not some esoteric piece of knowledge you have to spend years tracking down in the Himalayas. He’s not some obscure reference in a book hidden away on a dusty shelf in a library. Jesus says it again and again and again: I am right here. I am in your heart. I am in your joy. I am in your struggle. I am in the bread of the Eucharist. I am in that person next to you. And those people you pass by every day.
And if you want to know where I am going, he says to the disciples today, you just need to know me better. You need to improve this relationship. It is the goal of your life. This is where you are going. The destination of a faithful Christian’s journey is Jesus Christ and his love. You need to fall in love with me, I can hear him saying to the disciples today. You need to read about me and talk to me in prayer and seek and serve me among the people and places of the world. And the more you know me, the more you know where I am leading you, and where I have gone to prepare a place for you, and where I will bring you when I go. Because I am the destination and I am the way to get there.
I read a story recently about a woman who moved with her husband and children to a new town, which brought them several hours away from her in-laws and her children’s grandparents. And of course she wanted her children to maintain a good relationship with their grandparents. And so she and her husband committed to regularly driving the several hours it would take to visit them. They only problem was that they would leave on Friday after work and would not arrive at her in-laws until sometime around midnight. And the woman was concerned that it would be too much. Because her in-laws were elderly and weren’t in the best health, and she didn’t want to bother them or tax them in any way.
So the first time they visited it was late in the evening and the woman was surprised to find that the in laws were awake and ready and were preparing the couch for them to sleep on and getting some food ready for them to eat. And she found that her in-laws were just overwhelmingly happy to have done all of this. And that she didn’t need to worry about anything. But that they were doing all of this based on this relationship of love.
Because when you have a relationship of love, you’re willing to do almost anything for someone. It’s not too much to go to prepare a place for someone when you love them.
If we want to find where Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us, all we need to do is realize Jesus’s love. For that’s where he wants us to go. Imagine, we search for years, we struggle in all aspects of life, we look high and low for that thing which we think will make us complete and wonder how to get to the place where Jesus wants us to be. And all we really need to do is find him in that place of love, where even now at this second he is waiting for us.
The love of Jesus, of course, doesn’t mean our problems will disappear or that the world’s challenges will end overnight. But I do know that the love of Jesus brings a presence and a power that can do mighty things both within us and in our world.
Once the disciples figure out where Jesus can be found – in love, their hearts become less troubled. Once their hearts become less troubled can get together and move on to form a new community. Once they form a new community they go on to form a movement. And that movement changed the world.
And we who gather here are inheritors of that movement and bearers of that love for this world which so clearly has no clue where it’s going or how to get there. Part of our role in this world is to be Thomas and from time to time, to raise our hands and ask: are you sure this is the way to go, because I’m pretty sure having more guns is not going to get us there. And hatred and prejudice are not going to get us there. And higher walls on our borders are not going to get us there. But it is through following the way of Jesus and speaking the truth of Jesus and living the life of Jesus that will give us peace. And bring us home. And help us dwell in his house forever.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Jesus. Find his love and you will know where to go. Know where to go and you will find his love.