Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.Jesus (John 14:1)
Today being the 5th Sunday of Easter, we continue our celebration of Jesus’s resurrection. But this Sunday’s gospel reading, like last Sunday’s, actually takes place before the resurrection. In fact, this Sunday’s reading takes place right before Jesus is arrested, crucified, and dies, before being raised from the dead.
We might wonder why we would have a gospel reading like this one during the season of Easter. But I am glad that we do. Because hearing these words right now makes their meaning even more powerful.
It would have been easy, when you think about, for Jesus to say to his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me,” after he is raised from the dead. And it would have been easy for his disciples to believe this, after he is raised from the dead.
But Jesus tells them this right before he is arrested. He tells them this when their hearts are troubled. And that makes these words and this message one that has comforted troubled hearts, ever since they were first recorded in this gospel.
It’s Okay to Have a Troubled Heart
I suspect that there are people reading this who have troubled hearts. Whether it be because of this pandemic, because of health or financial concerns, for you or your friends or family, or perhaps because Mother’s Day is a difficult day for you, or for other reasons known only to you.
And the first thing I want to say to all with troubled hearts this day, is that it’s okay. It’s okay to have a troubled heart. Even as a believer. In fact, sometimes it is our very faith that opens our hearts to the pain of this world, and leaves them troubled. And believers with troubled hearts are good company. If Jesus’s first disciples can have troubled hearts, as they do in this reading, then so can we.
Think about those first disciples, who at this point in the story have been following Jesus for three years. They have witnessed Jesus walking on water, calming storms at sea, feeding thousands miraculously, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, and even raising the dead. They have heard Jesus tell them that he must be killed before being raised on the third day. They should know what is coming.
And yet, even with all that they have witnessed, they can’t help but have troubled hearts, in that upper room that night. And if the disciples can have troubled hearts, then so can we.
And our troubled hearts have nothing to do with a lack of faith. Our troubled hearts simply remind us that we are human, and that all humans suffer, even those who believe. Yes, it is certainly okay to have a troubled heart.
Believe In God
But to those of you who do have troubled hearts today, Jesus has an invitation. The same that he had for those first disciples: Believe in God. Believe also in Jesus. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me,” Jesus says.
In the midst of the midst of this pandemic, or in the midst of whatever might be troubling your heart today, believe in God. Trust in Jesus. Don’t give up on your faith, even when your heart is troubled. That, after all, is when you need your faith the most. That is when you need Jesus the most. And that is when he will be there, for you, and with you, the most. Trust that promise, Jesus says. Trust him. Believe in God. And let your hearts find peace.
Jesus Shows Us the Way
But how, you might ask, how in the world do we do this? How do we believe in God when our hearts are troubled? And Jesus, who asks us to do this, also shows us how. He doesn’t just tell us to do this. He shows us. He shows us the way to trust in God, even in the middle of life’s fiercest storms.
Because Jesus himself does this very thing. Jesus is the son of God. But he is also fully human. He emptied himself of his divinity. To be one of us. To hurt as we hurt. And to show us what to do with out pain. Jesus trusts in God, his heavenly Father, even when things seem to be falling apart for him.
Think about the context of today’s gospel reading. Jesus is in the upper room with his disciples. He has just washed their feet. He has just warned them that one of them would betray him. He has just told Peter that he would deny knowing Jesus three times before the cock crows. He knows that the leaders of his religion are conspiring to have him killed. And that his heavenly Father is getting ready to abandon him to the cross and to his death.
In fact, Jesus has just admitted, in a prayer recorded John 12, that his heart is troubled. “Now my soul is troubled.” Jesus prayed. “And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
If we think it is hard for us to trust God in the middle of a storm – and it is – think of how hard it would have been for Jesus, who was the son of God but also every bit as human as you and me. Think of how hard it would have been for him to trust God when he was dying on the cross, feeling abandoned by his heavenly Father, and bearing all the sin and brokenness of the world on his shoulders. But even then, Jesus trusted God. And he showed us how to trust God, too, even when our hearts are most troubled.
Jesus Shows Us Why We Can Believe
But Jesus doesn’t just show us how to do this. He also shows us why we should do this. Because, after telling us not to let our hearts be troubled, and after inviting us to believe in God and to believe in Jesus, he backs these words up, by dying to bring these words to life. And when God raises Jesus from the dead, we realize that there is no storm that is greater than God’s love and grace and mercy and power. There is no storm that we face, or that our loved ones face, that takes us away from the promise made in this gospel reading.
That is why it is so powerful to hear this reading now, during the season of Easter. Unlike those first disciples, we get to hear these words on the other side of the resurrection. These words have a new weight and a new joy in the light of Easter. Because we know that this is a promise not just for today, but for all of eternity. We know what Jesus means when he says in this reading, “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
The Way and the Truth and the Life
But, still, there is one more question that might gnaw at us, just as it did for those first disciples. Even when we believe in God, and even when we trust that Jesus is going to prepare place for us, we might still wonder how in the world we will get there. We might all have the same thought that Thomas did in the upper room that night, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” How can we know the way?
It is so easy to get lost along the way, to lose the path in this life. We all do. We might have the map, but we’re not sure where we are on it, or where we’re supposed to be going, or which road to take. We’re not even sure what we’re supposed to do tomorrow. So how can we know the way to the Father, and the way to eternal life?
And to all who ask this question, there is that familiar but wonderful answer from Jesus, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Jesus does more than show us the way. He offers to be the way. And that, you might say, makes all the difference. Jesus himself is the way.
Jesus Is the Way
This idea of Jesus being the way was so important to those first followers of Jesus, that they simply called themselves people of the way. We know this because we read it in Acts of the Apostles. Before they were called Christians, they were called people who belonged to “The Way.” Jesus is the way. He doesn’t just teach us the way.
He doesn’t offer ten steps toward enlightenment. Or a concrete plan of salvation. Or a sure way to discover peace and happiness. He doesn’t just teach us the way. He doesn’t even just show us the way. He doesn’t show us how to live so that we, too, can experience the same joy and peace that he experienced. He doesn’t just show us the way. He doesn’t even just guide us on the way. He doesn’t say, “follow me,” and then lead us to heaven, to eternal life.
Jesus, he tells us, is the way. He himself. He is the way. He is the truth. He is the life. He is the light. He is the bread. He is the living water. He is everything that we could ever want. Jesus himself. And a life with him is itself the way to life, to true life. And when we live our lives with him, nothing can take us off this way.
And today, we are simply encouraged to believe this. To believe in God. To believe in Jesus. And to find in him the way that leads to peace for our troubled hearts. Thanks be to God. Amen