Saint Philip & Saint James:
In the yearly commemoration of the Apostles, the feast of Philip and James falls in Eastertide, and like the Sundays of that season, the gospel lesson is drawn from St. John’s account of Jesus’ discourse at the last supper (14:1-14) – a passage whose opening verses are familiar to us from the Burial of the Dead. Just hours before his arrest, Jesus tells the disciples of his imminent departure from the world to the Father. They had invested their future in following him; and a future without Jesus has a shattering prospect. Yet paradoxically, it is his departure that will bring them comfort; and the comfort that it brings to them it brings to all Christians facing grief and loss.
The comfort he offers is a promise of home: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” What we call “home” is a place where we are known, welcomed, accepted, loved, delighted in – a place which belongs to us, which fits us, where we can be truly ourselves. The whole of human life can be under-stood in terms of this longing for home, a longing which is never quite satisfied in this life. When we first fall in love, get a first job, get the first break in a career, go on a dream vacation, move into a dream house, or buy a dream boat – in each of these moments we think we are finally finding the place we are looking for; but when we finally obtain the prize, we find that feeling is gone. These experiences may be pleasant, but they do not leave us satisfied – they are pleasant inns along the road, but they are not the destination at its end. The world serves to arouse our desire for home – but it cannot satisfy it. “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee”. We can never be content with finite goods, no matter how many we have, because we are looking for the joy that only an infinite good can give.
The home we yearn for is the house of the Father, and therefore also of the Son. That is what Jesus promises his disciples: “that where I am, there ye may be also”. To be at home in the Father’s house, is to be where Jesus is. It is to be known, welcomed, loved, accepted, delighted in, as the Son is known and delighted in by the Father.
But how can that happen? how can the finite have access to the infinite? Given what he knows of us, how can the Father love and delight in us as he does in his Son? This the essence of tragedy: that we see what we are made for, a life with God, like a green hill in the distance; but we don’t see the way there. Kafka put it this way: there is a goal, but no way; what we call the way is only wavering. Thomas protests, “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?” Jesus tells him: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
We can have a home with the Son in the Father’s house, because in the Son we have the way there. In the Old Testament the way is defined religiously and ethically as a path of obedience to the commandments – something for humans to do, and in which they are doomed to fail. In walking this way in perfect obedience unto death, Jesus himself becomes the way for us to follow in faith – something for us to receive. In taking on himself the fulfilment of the law for us, both by active obedience to its requirements and passive suffering of its penalties, Jesus himself becomes “new and living way” (Hebrews 10:20), “in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him” (Ephesians 3:12). So his departure from the world to the Father blazes a way for us to follow to the Father and the warmest welcome at the end of the way – a
welcome that we know even now by grace, and hereafter in the fullness of glory. In Christ – our filthy rags
replaced by his perfect righteousness – we have become lovely and delightful to the Father. And because Christ is the way for us to travel from the world to the Father, out of wrath into favor, it is also the way for the Father to come to us and together with the Son abide with us, by the gift of the Spirit (John 14:15-23), to remake us his own Son’s likeness, and makes us partakers of life eternal.
Show me thy ways, O Lord,
* and teach me thy paths.
Lead me forth in thy truth,
* and learn me:
for thou art the God
* of my salvation; in thee hath been my hope
all the day long. (Ps 25:3,4)
This essay was published in the St. John’s Parish Paper for Sunday, May 2, 2021. If you have questions or topics for a featured story, please send them to Rector Gavin Dunbar.