Are you troubled; anxious, worried, distressed, and unsettled? As we go into the second month of the Coronavirus Pandemic, who isn’t?
In today’s scripture reading from the 14th Chapter of Johns Gospel, Jesus indicated that it was his disciples who were troubled. Instead of being worried by a pandemic, as we are today, they were troubled by the prospect of Jesus leaving them, and not knowing where he was going.
On several occasions during their life together Jesus told his disciples that the Son of Man would leave them and suffer and die at the hands of the authorities who opposed and were threatened by him. But they did not listen, either because they did not want to hear such talk, and were in denial of its reality, or because they were too literal to understand Jesus’ implicit references to himself.
In the verses that proceeded today’s reading Jesus had what was to be his last supper and Passover meal with his disciples. At that meal, as described in other Gospel accounts, Jesus likened the broken bread, and poured out wine to his body and blood that would be broken and poured out in his death on a cross; an inference that his disciples again did not seem to understand.
In John’s account of the last supper such an inference was not made. But, after finishing their supper John had Jesus say: “Little children, just a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now, I say to you, Where I am going you cannot come.”
This caused two of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, and Thomas, to ask, “Where are you going?” Implicit in their question were others, like, “Why are you leaving us, and for how long are you going to be gone? Why aren’t you staying with us here when there is so much work to be done.”
Many things in life trouble us, like our finances, our health, and our safety; all things that especially concern us as we live through our Coronavirus Pandemic. But few things can worry us more than being left by those we love, especially if we do not know where they have gone or whether they will ever be coming back. And, few things can also trouble us more than leaving those we love.
Now in today’s reading it was not explicitly stated that Jesus was troubled by leaving his disciples. But we can infer that he was because he loved his disciples, and he referred to them as his friends.
If Jesus had not cared for his disciple’s he would not have bothered to tell them he was leaving them, something he did on several occasions to prepare them for its inevitability.
Because leaving those we love, especially when we know it will be permanent, is always troubling, we try to prepare them for our leaving. Jesus did for his disciples, in the 14th through the 17th chapters of Johns Gospel where he gave what has come to be known as his “Farewell Discourse”.
We know that being left, especially by those who provide an anchor, and nurture for us, can cause us great heartache, and feelings of abandonment.
In infants, and children, psychologists call this “Separation Anxiety”; a feeling that can remain with them throughout their lives, every time someone leaves them.
This feeling is never more evident than when the person who leaves dies and it is not clear where he or she has gone.
When my wife Deborah was dying from cancer, she tried to prepare me for her death by showing me how to live my life without her. And, I have heard from others that she worried about whether I would be adequately prepared.
Jesus had the same worries for his disciples. Because he too feared they would be lost without his friendship and guidance, he tried to prepare them for his imminent departure.
I find it interesting that today’s scripture reading comes on the fifth Sunday of Easter. Prior weeks of Easter readings dealt with stories of the crucified and resurrected Jesus appearing to his disciples and their being comforted by his appearance.
Today’s reading took us back to the time before Jesus death and resurrection when Jesus was preparing his disciples for his death. Maybe it was chosen to show how the disciples would have to prepare again for Jesus’ departure when his appearances stopped.
According to the Gospel accounts, the resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples in the 40 days after his resurrection. During this time Jesus was still experienced by his disciples physically, albeit in a different, and altered bodily form.
When these appearances stopped as Jesus left the earth and ascended into heaven, his disciples had to grieve for him a second time.
When we grieve the loss of the ones we love, we can also experience the distress of having them leave us twice. The first time they leave us in death, which we grieve.
Then they come back to us, in dreams and visions, for a time, only to leave us again a second time, often never to come back to us in that way again. Then we are left doubly troubled, to work out our grief.
In today’s reading, Jesus spoke words to his disciples before he leaves them in death. They were the same words they later would hear in their minds when Jesus left them for second and final time in his altered bodily form before his ascension into heaven: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Do not be distressed by my leaving, even in death, and not knowing where I have gone. I have been raised up to live in a place we call heaven, into eternal life.
This same place I have gone you too will go when you die; I am preparing for your arrival one day, so do not be worried about your mortality; eternal life in heaven awaits you too.
Another minister, named Jake Wilson, in his commentary on today’s scripture reading offered another interesting interpretation of this place Jesus was preparing for his disciples, when he wrote:
‘Jesus is leaving to prepare a place specifically for his followers. The place is not geographical or symbolic and we can be relatively sure that the disciples did not dream of mansions in the sky. Rather Jesus promises “dwelling places” to live with God,” where they can live in the presence of God.’
These places could be found within themselves in prayer and contemplation, or in their church communities, buildings, and gatherings, or they could be found in their ministry and mission.
Jesus left his disciples physically, in death. If we survive those we love, they leave us too; not only in death, but in divorce and in relationships that end. These losses are a sad part of life that often eaves us alone and abandoned.
Knowing his disciples would feel this way by his leaving, John had Jesus say: “I will not leave you desolate, or orphaned, in some translations. Not a little while and the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live you will live also. Peace I give to you, my peace I give to you, do not let your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Jesus’ words to his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” are words for us too and are especially appropriate during the Coronavirus Pandemic we are living in and trying to get through.
Most all of us are more than a little anxious, distressed and out of sorts about the possibility of getting sick and even perishing at worst; or having our finances or way of life adversely affected at best.
If we believe in God, and Jesus, we have nothing to really fear, even death itself. This is because Jesus has said to us who are his disciples that he prepares a place for us too in heaven.
And, not only a place in Heaven, but also places on earth where we can live with God and bask in the presence of the Holy, like in our own minds in contemplation and prayer, like in the beauty of Gods created world, like in our communities of faith and their churches ministries and mission.
So, as we endure more days of the Coronavirus Pandemic with no certain end in sight, let us find blessed assurance these words of Jesus:
“I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me, because I live, you will live also….Peace I leave you with; my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”