Spoiler alert: This past Sunday's gospel passage from John 14 is the designated gospel reading for my funeral. Be prepared... and don't let that trouble you.
I decided on that gospel lesson many years ago as a death-obsessed teenager sitting behind the pulpit in Christ Church as an acolyte. Unbeknownst to the congregation, I was studying up on the Burial Rites in the BCP because I knew I would be dead soon. I figured out which passages I wanted, had a few hymns in mind... and I had picked the John 14 gospel reading because I liked the line, "In my father's house there are many mansions..."
Fortunately, God had the means to foil my plans to make an early exit from the planet. There was much more that I needed to learn, and be shown, before I am allowed access to the promised place prepared for me.
In massage school, I learned a whole new appreciation for the concept of what Jesus might have meant when saying, "In my Father's house there are many mansions" (which the NRSV translates 'mansions' as 'dwelling places'). One afternoon as I stared out the window of my apartment at the goat pen, I meditated on what I'd been learning that day about the heart and how it functions to move oxygenated blood out, and receive blood back in to give it the air to pass back through and feed the body. I thought of the heart as a symbol of love. And as a symbol of love, then maybe this is the physical manifestation of God in our own bodies with the four chambers (mansions) beating, and giving us life, bringing in the spent blood and renewing it over and over to love and feed the body. My meditation felt like a glimpse behind the words of Christ, something more than just a pretty metaphor but a directive to seek the existence of God's love as being a part of me and fueling my being.
In more recent years, I have felt God taking the padlocks off the phrase, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." This particular statement, followed by the words of Christ saying that, "no one comes to the Father except through me" has led to many terrible transgressions on the part of Christians who have taken these words as literally meaning, "If you don't love GEE-zus and accept Him as your personal Lord and Savior, then I have the right to killya!" For the record, I have never thought, and still don't believe that Jesus meant this proclamation to be all about him, the man. And while the evangelist John may have had a personal political agenda he was pushing at the time that he was articulating his Gospel, God moves and makes things happen in a way that surpasses any human's ability to control or limit that movement. What I have seen in this passage is Jesus speaking with a voice that is not his alone. If he wasn't seen before, he is trying to unveil for us that he is one with the Father, the "I am". And in doing this, he is letting us know that we have the ability to do the same if we follow the teaching to love ourselves and one another. This is a teaching that is not unique to "Christians". This is a teaching that comes from God, whether you acknowledge God as Christ, or as Great Spirit, or whatever human descriptor we have for a Love that cleans us up, gives us breath in our blood, and keeps us going. In God's house, there is plenty of room for everybody, and always another seat at the banquet table.
As I've been kicking this phrase around in my head since Sunday, I have thought about my belief in the Trinitarian God. The way, the truth, the life. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Seems those concepts pair up nicely with each other. The way is the Father (or Creator). The truth is the Son (or Redeemer) and the life is the Holy Spirit (or the Sustainer). In action, it is the "was, is, and always will be" that orders the chaos of the world for me. Again, those who have not experienced liberation through Christ might balk at this idea of truth=Son. That word "truth" is a stumbling block, especially when linked to Christ. I'm reminded of the exchange between Jesus and Pilate (also in John's Gospel) where Pilate asks him, "What is truth?" It is an intriguing question... and Jesus never answers it. Instead, he leaves it there and we, like Pilate, are left with it. How do we know "the truth"? What do we know as "the truth"?
I can only answer for me. Truth, for me, is knowing that against all odds and being fed a steady diet of lies that I don't meet the qualifications to be loved by God, I need only to stand in the center of God's light shining on me, and listen to what is there: "Beloved". God provides the buffer to the meanness of the world that wants to label and tear us down and remains as the constant in me. If I forget it, and need the physical manifestation, I can place my hand on my heart and feel the word being repeated: Beloved. Beloved. Beloved.
The way. The truth. The life. Beloved, it beats beneath your breast bone. With Love, it will be strong.
An H/T to Mtr. Lee Shafer for a sermon that helped inspire this entry.