Monday Matters (May 8, 2023)


The Collect for the fifth Sunday of Easter

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

The Way

The collect we heard yesterday in church (above) is based on the gospel reading we also heard that day, an excerpt from Jesus’ farewell address to his disciples at the Last Supper. In that conversation, Jesus tells his disciples: “Let not your heart be troubled.” I’m mindful that the disciples at that critical moment, had plenty to be troubled about on the eve of Jesus’ arrest, torture and execution. Judas left that dinner table to betray. Peter promised not to deny Jesus right before he did three times. A rough evening.

As disciples wonder how to move forward, Jesus reassures them by saying: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” I’ve been thinking how that is different from saying that he knew the way, the truth and the life, which he did. It’s different than saying he would show the way, the truth and the life, which he did. It’s just one of the times that Jesus talks about himself in that way, beginning a sentence with the words: “I am.” In other places in John’s gospel, he says things like: I am the door. I am the vine. I am the light. I am the bread. Whenever Jesus begins a sentence with the words “I am,” it’s a loaded reference. For when Jesus says “I am,” he utters sacred words revealing the identity of God. YHWH can be translated “I am who I am.” Jesus is making a bold statement, to say the least, and it got him in a lot of good trouble.

But when he talks like that, it also represents a holy invitation. The way to truth and life comes in a personal relationship with the one who has risen and ascended, who in other words is not just an important historical figure, but is an active presence. How do we enter into relationship with that kind of presence?

Jesus’ final address to his disciples before he dies (John 13-17) seems to me to be about how the disciples are to stay in relationship with him after he has left them. He makes the audacious and mysterious suggestion that they could still do that. In John 15, he says that he was the vine and that the disciples would always be able to draw strength from him as the vine’s branches. Jesus extended an invitation to the disciples in the upper room to stay in relationship with him. He extends that invitation to us as well.

So what do you make of that idea of an ongoing, personal relationship with Jesus? Do you think that’s possible? It may sound weird or spooky. It’s mysterious, for sure. It may sound irrational and unscientific. It may not sound like the way that Episcopalians talk. Maybe it helps to think of it like any other relationship.

Like any relationship, it involves spending time together. When it comes to relationship with the Holy One, that sounds to me like contemplation, meditation, prayer. It involves learning about the other person, which we can do through scripture and by hanging out with a community of Jesus followers. It involves being present where Christ is present. I find that kind of presence in the bread and wine. Where do you find it? That kind of presence can be discovered in each other, and especially in those who are pushed to the edges who experience suffering. It can be found in service to those folks, as in baptism, we promise to meet the Christ present in all persons, even when Christ comes very well disguised.

I’ve appreciated the way that the baptismal service frames this kind of relationship with Jesus. When someone is to be baptized, they get asked a few questions:

1.    Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?

2.    Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?

3.    Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

These are three strong ways to describe a relationship with the living Christ. What ways make sense to you this Monday morning. This week, what steps can you take to deepen your relationship with the risen Christ, the one who said and says: “I am the way.”

-Jay Sidebotham

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