I expect you all know the joke about the tourists on a trip through Wiltshire who get totally lost. Driving down a narrow country lane, they come across an old farmer walking along, so the exasperated driver winds down the window and says, “Please … please! Can you tell us how to get to Salisbury?” The old boy slowly leans on the window sill and looks up at the sky for a long time, stroking his chin. “Well,” he says eventually, in a slow drawl, shaking his head, “I wouldn’t start from ’ere,” and walks on.
This is the fifth Sunday of the Easter season, and we ran out of resurrection accounts two weeks ago (which is an intriguing sermon in itself, but not this one), so we’re now looking at passages before the resurrection in which Jesus appears to be speaking about heaven. The Good Shepherd last week, and now, “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
The trouble is, it’s not always easy to tell if Jesus is talking about heaven, or the here and now, or both (whisper: usually, it’s both).
Jesus starts out by saying, “You know all this already”, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas (our hero) puts him straight. “Not been listening; don’t know where; don’t know how; not a clue.”
So: Jesus is all full of reassurance – you know the way, you’ve seen the Father, don’t let your hearts be troubled. But Thomas (aided and abetted by Philip) is not remotely reassured – hang on a bit, we don’t know, what, where, how.
They can’t both be right.
And it’s not as if this is the only time Jesus bangs on about this. Remember the Road to Emmaus? Thomas after the resurrection? Nicodemus? Peter? Jesus is constantly saying, “You know this. You have a soul don’t you? If you know that you have a soul, you know that it needs a way; needs the truth; needs to be brought to life. That’s what being human is all about for goodness’ sake!”
We know this. We just don’t know that we know it.
To get back to our farmer. We do tend to think that the way starts somewhere else. Somewhere we haven’t got to yet. Yes, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life – but we can’t access any of these things because we need to sort something out first, we need to be in a different place. If Jesus were to say, “Follow me”, we might reply, “I can’t. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just I don’t feel that I’ve reached the starting line yet.”
But another way of putting what Jesus is saying would be, “The Way starts here. Exactly where you are. It’s the only possible starting point. Where else could it be?” Just as for Mary Magdalene, the Way began in the midst of heart-breaking grief, and for Peter it began as he faced his deepest shame, there is nowhere that isn’t the place where the Way begins for us – Coronavirus or not.
And the Way is about the next step – nothing else. Jesus in this passage is mostly talking about here and now. The next step for the disciples is going to be tough. “Soon, I won’t be here with you in the same way,” Jesus is saying. “But all will be well. The next step is in God’s hand.”
So when Jesus says, “Ask anything in my name and I will do it,” we need to understand “in my name” – understand that this is about the next step. We must ask, as it were, in the name of the Way, the Truth, the Life. If we ask God to take this epidemic away, that’s probably not going to happen in an instant. If we ask for faith and insight to walk today in the light of Christ, then we might find (what we’ve known all along really) that Jesus is with us on the journey and can set our troubled hearts at rest.
The Way starts here.