There was a footballer in the late 1940s/early 1950s who shall remain nameless but who acquired the nickname of The Gunner. He picked it up for being a tough, no- nonsense and fearsome opponent who took no prisoners on what sometimes could be a battle-field rather than a playing field. He believed, as they say, in getting his retaliation in first.
When interviewed by a national newspaper a few days before the final of a major tournament, he was asked by a journalist what he thought of the opposition and how he expected the game to go. The reply, it is fair to say, consisted of language the angels do not know, and left the journalist in no doubt that by the end of the forthcoming match his opponents would be lucky to be alive. There would be blood and hair all over the place.
In the next day’s newspaper the journalist reported that when asked about the match and his opponents, The Gunner said he was ‘quietly confident’ about the outcome …
As reported by St John, you could say it is a truthfully ‘quietly confidant’ Jesus that we meet in today’s Gospel as he speaks to his disciples before he being arrested and put to death.
Now you would expect in such a situation, and knowing what was to come, that Jesus would be frantic with fear and panic. You might expect him to lash out and issue threats or even do a runner. Instead, he is remarkably calm and assured – ‘quietly confidant’, you might say. This is because he believes that although he will suffer and die, his life is in God’s hands and under God’s ultimate control. And is this not true for us as well?
It is striking also that Our Lord’s concern here is not for himself but for his friends, those gathered with him at what we call the Last Supper. He is not even threatening his betrayer. Instead, he is thinking of them asking them to have the same trust in God that he has. So he tells them:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still and trust in me.
Perhaps he is asking the same of you and me in this fearful time for many?
They – and we – can have such trust, he says, because:
There are many rooms in my Father’s house … I am going now to prepare a place for you … so that you may be there too.
Here is a promise that when his and their earthly life ends, relationships with him will continue in what he calls ‘my Father’s house’ or what we call ‘heaven’.
This is our Christian faith in a nutshell: our relationship with Christ here on earth does not end with death. We will not disappear into nothingness. We will exist in what Jesus calls ‘eternal life’. We have no practical information on what this will be like but in essence it is that we will go not just to somewhere but to someone, the person Jesus calls Father, the maker and creator of the universe.
It sounds simple – too simple for many – but it is that profound as well.
When Thomas says to Jesus: I have no idea of where you are going before us so how can we know the way there, Jesus makes a statement, the words of which are carved into the grey slate that rests atop the decorated panels behind me.
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
As the Way, he is the route to having true communion with God the Father. As the Truth, in him life’s true purpose and meaning are to be found. As the Life, the fullness of existence is in a relationship with him that does not end with death.
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath,
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.
George Herbert (1593-1633).
Holy Name, Jesmond
10 May 2020