The Rev. Mary Lynn Coulson's sermon from May 14, 2017, fifth week of Easter.
Today we meet Thomas again, poor Thomas who has won for himself the most unfortunate name: doubting Thomas.
I like to call him Truthful Thomas.
Thomas, this disciple who isn’t afraid to ask questions – he plays the part of us in the narrative. Jesus tells the disciples not to worry; that he is going somewhere to prepare for them, but he’ll be back to bring them too. Well that’s confusing, especially to the disciples, who don’t yet know how the story turns out! They don’t know yet about Jesus’ death and resurrection. They have no clue what he’s talking about.
So Thomas (and I) asked Jesus for a little clarification. How exactly can we go somewhere when he don’t know where you’re going?
“You know the way,” Jesus says.
I do not! I absolutely do not know the way. I am Thomas – are you? I am the one who wants to shake Jesus and say – drop all these nice spiritual clichés – how do we actually get to where you’re going? How do we actually follow you?
Jesus gives Thomas, and me, an answer that sounds like something Yoda would say in Star Wars. How can we know the way, Jesus? His reply: you know the way.
Um, nope! That’s why I just asked you the question. I want to know specifically, in each moment of the day, how do I live in union with the Father? How do I follow Jesus on Monday morning? Where are we even going?
You know the way, the wise, sage Jesus states to the disciples, as all around them chaos ensues. Jesus has just washed their feet, which was totally weird. Then Judas and Jesus had an odd conversation, and something feels off. It is an ominous night. Have they even gotten it yet, that this is goodbye? That tomorrow, their beloved friend and guide would die a most gruesome death?
“You know the way,” Jesus tells them. You know. Even as you ask the question – how do we get where you’re going? – you already know.
Who was the last person you said goodbye to?
When I worked in the hospital, I accompanied many people as they said many difficult goodbyes. I came along as daughters, sons, parents, best friends, lovers – all said goodbye to their beloved. You might expect that I have lots of grand, spiritual stories of these encounters, memories of families reconciling, lovers expressing one last heartfelt yearning, or those mythical “come to Jesus” moments when someone confesses Jesus as Lord with their very last breath.
But, my experience wasn’t that dramatic. In those moments of final goodbyes, something holy and sacred was most definitely happening. But it didn’t often look holy, or at least what we would probably describe as holy.
No, these moments often included…hand sanitizer, so much hand sanitizer. And uncomfortable hospital beds, and fluorescent lights, weird smells, and awkward conversations with the nurse, and, yes, often moments of boredom, where it’s tempting to take out your phone and check Facebook.
You see, most of us enter those moments with grand expectations of some spiritual fulfillment, and so we think – I have to bring something spectacularly spiritual to this!
When Thomas asks Jesus – how do we get where you’re going? – I wonder what he thought the response would be.
Pray the Lord’s Prayer every hour; make sure to keep the sabbath holy, go on a challenging pilgrimage to the top of mount Everest.
No, Jesus instead assures Thomas, and me: You know the way.
This is what I told families who were anxious to say goodbye to their loved ones as they were dying. What do I say? Can she even hear me? I feel terrible for what I said to him the last time we talked. What can I say to make it right?
You know the way. The way is not magical, or even particularly spiritual feeling. The way to say goodbye is just as human, earthy, and incarnate as every other moment of your life. Your stomach will growl because you’re ready for lunch, your mind will wander to your ever-expanding to-do list, you will hear a commercial for McDonalds on the TV in the next room.
No – you know the way. As I watched people of every age say goodbye to someone they loved, that’s what I was struck by. That the moment was no different than any other moment, … and yet it was a moment unlike any other.
The mother who had fiercely loved and protected her daughter through her journey with autism, stroked her face and protected her eyes from the harsh overhead lights.
The husband who had sung his wife to sleep every night of their fifty-year marriage, sang to her in her last hours of life.
You know the way.
Jesus, what’s happening? This was the question underneath Thomas’ wondering. What is going to happen next?
You know the way, Jesus says. Because you know me.
To know Jesus is to know something deep within – something divine and humble, ordinary and extraordinary – something that is expressed with each act of love.
You know the way, he tells them. Not only have you seen what I do, but you’ve lived with me for these past years. You’ve walked next to me, as we both were exhausted from the hot sun and the long journey. You’ve heard the way I speak to the children, the way I want to be around them, and they want to be around me. You’ve tasted fish and bread as we shared a meal, a miraculous meal, in which everyone was fed. You’ve heard my breath, sensed my presence, watched as I’ve loved instead of condemned. You know the way.
I am the way. I am the destination, and the journey. I am the awkward silent moments in holy conversations, the blisters on your feet from walking the hospital corridors, the response of love in the face of fear.
You know the way, Jesus assures us. Live in me, as I live in you. Abide, dwell, make a home in this place – this place now, where God is already abiding with you. I can dwell alongside your doubts, your sadness, your confusion: I am the way.
The way of discipleship is the way of Jesus. It’s a path through an overgrown meadow, a path we walk of grass trampled down, from the many who have walked before us. Why are you asking me where we’re going, when you’ve already been there? Why are you asking me about the path, when you’re already walking on it? Where we’re going is where we have been. I am the way.
Jesus is the way. Not the actions Jesus took, or even the specific words Jesus said – no, The Way is Jesus himself, the living, breathing, incarnate word of God. The Way is a life of self-giving love; a life of forgiveness, when forgiveness seems impossible; a life of giving up worldly power, money, and status to stand firmly with the voiceless; a life of prayer, a life of following, a life of death and resurrection, over and over again.
So come. You know the way.
~The Rev. Mary Lynn Coulson
Mary Lynn grew up in Kansas City (go Royals!), and is having fun exploring sunny San Diego. She studied French and environmental sustainability at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. She then began her studies at Virginia Theological Seminary. While in seminary, she served as a seminarian at St. Mary’s in Arlington, VA, and she also served as a hospital chaplain for a year. She graduated from VTS in May 2016. She is passionate about pastoral care, art, food, and community development.