Do not be afraid
Have you ever experienced the feeling of being dislocated, cut off from things, disoriented, lost? It is the kind of feeling that can come upon us when, for instance, we move to a new neighbourhood, a new country perhaps; it is the kind of experience we have when we lose someone close to us. We can feel this way when we begin a new job or when we take on a task that takes us outside of our comfort zone. We lose our base line if you like. We lose our connectedness to the people, places and experiences that assist in creating our identity and help us to know who we are, and what our place is in the world. Many people are experiencing these sorts of feelings during the restrictions implemented due to the corona pandemic.
And the gospel passage today picks up something of this experience. John’s Gospel is recounting to us the experience of the emerging church of the first century. We must remember that the first group of Christians were Jewish and, as such, they had been used to going to the Synagogue each week, to listening to the Torah, to ritualisimg their faith, to joining in a community of believers and strengthening their commitment to love the Lord their God with all their heart and soul and mind and to love their neighbour as themselves. Yet by the time John is writing his Gospel, and particulalry this text that we listen to today, the early Christians were no longer welcome in the Synagogues. In following Christ, and in claiming him as the Messiah they found themselves dislocated from the past. And for many of them that was an incredible and painful loss. So John is writing to them – do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust in me. There are many abiding places, dwelling places, (rooms) in my Father’s house. You can find the God of life and love, and the community of life and love if you focus on me. Listen to my words, reflect on my actions and you will know where God is and you will be called into greater works than even the ones you have seen while I have been among you. Draw life from me – my Word leads to the one who sent me. In other words, you will find your centre, your re-location, your orientation in me. And John’s Gospel is a testimony to a community of believers who refound themselves, reformed themselves around a ritual meal, a foot-washing ceremony and the Word of God as reinterpreted in the light of the resurrection of Jesus.
Many of us are feeling a sense of loss and dislocation from our faith communities at the moment due to the fact that we are not allowed to gather in our churches, to see and touch and smell the symbols of our faith, to experience the gathered community of faith, to communally celebrate the Eucharist. And I wonder if the words of the Gospel are spoken to us today. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust in me still. There are many abiding places, dwelling places, in the house of God. And perhaps we are being asked, at least for now, to find new abiding places of God. How? In exactly the same way as the gospel tells us. By turning to the word. This is the time when every one of us can relocate ourselves or reorient ourselves in God’s word. That is why we send out in our parish each week, ‘Spending Time with the Word’. And we can deepen and find new expression of the foot-washing ceremony. As someone said to me recently – “I have never washed my hands so much as in these days of the pandemic”. And we should see that as a service to one another, and each time we perform that ritual act we might be promoted to think about other small ways that we can be of service to one another, to create the new community of faith. And when we can’t gather for the Eucharistic food, we might find ways to ritualise our own tables, and give thanks for the food and nourishment we receive each day – that it may build us up to be witnesses to the living God. So, do not be afriad, have faith and centre your life of Jesus Christ, our hope, our life and our future.