Cookies are in use to track visits to our website: we store no personal details.

The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe

Messages from Bishop Mark

The Way to the Mansion

Posted by The Rt. Rev. Mark D. W. Edington on

Sunday’s reading from John’s gospel brings around the sixth of seven “I am” statements by which Jesus discloses to his followers who he is and why he has come: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Taken as a whole, however, the reading itself contains a somewhat vexing tension—one we can decide either to ignore entirely, or confront fully.
The tension is bound up in the two very different ideas we are given about the expansiveness of God’s purpose in coming among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. 
Remember the scene: Jesus is gathered with his disciples at that last meal. The room is tense. There is a foreboding feeling in the air. Trouble is afoot; the community they have created together for three years is about to be torn asunder by betrayal, violence, and death.
They want to know the way out of their worry. They want to know the way to assurance, to safety, to the abundant life Jesus had spoken of.
And Jesus tells them. He says that he is the way. And he says something far more: “No one comes to the Father”—that is, no one can find their way to that assurance, that safety, that abundance—“except through me.”
If you understand that phrase the way it is often preached—especially among preachers in America—you understand it as an exclusive statement about belief. It is saying that belief in Christ is the only path to assurance, and safety, and abundance—and, in the end, salvation. 
Being able to make that claim is, in the end, a claim of power. It places in a position of considerable power those who take it upon themselves to judge what is the sufficient standard of belief in Christ. It becomes, on this kind of thinking, a particular way of praying, or a particular way of reading and understanding the Bible, or a particular way of speaking about Christ to others.
But then we have to hold against that what comes just before it; a statement of almost limitless expansiveness. “In my Father’s house”—that place of assurance and safety and abundance—“there are many dwelling places.” Indeed, the words of the Authorized Version render this something like a conundrum in English: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” It is something like saying, “In this stone are many mountains.” A smaller idea contains a vast one. The old African-American spiritual expresses this welcoming expansiveness joyfully:
Plenty good room, plenty good room,
Plenty good room in my father’s kingdom;
Plenty good room, plenty good room,
Just choose your seat and sit down.
How can we reconcile this? If belief in Christ is the only way, what will it matter if there is room for everyone?
We are all living through days in which we seek just what Jesus’s friends most wanted—assurance, and safety, and abundance. We want the assurance that this disease now stalking all humanity will be ended. We want to be safe from its reach. We want so much to return to the abundance of our past lives—the abundance of contact, of friendships, of choices of how to spend our time.
It is just possible that there is a way to reconcile these two ideas, a way of listening to those words of Jesus in a new way that knits these two things together. But it would mean a shift in our understanding of what it means to be disciples, and what it means to be people of faith.
Imagine for a moment that when Jesus teaches us that path—“no one comes to the Father except through me”—he is not talking about belief. Imagine instead that he is talking about behavior. That would be a very different thing.
For one thing, it would take away from us, as mere disciples, the power of judgment over others, the idea that we are somehow suited to judge the sufficiency of others’ faith. Instead, it would give to all people, no matter their grasp of faith or their way of expressing it, the same standard—simply of whether our behavior follows the example of Christ.
Then, we would recognize those who were on that path not because of what they professed with their lips, or even what building they worship in. Instead, we’d recognize a fellow-disciple simply by asking whether their way of acting in the world looked like the example of Christ—forgiving, and loving, and reaching beyond the barriers of social divisions to see the humanity of all people, everywhere, regardless of any other consideration.
A virus is an egalitarian thing. It affects rich and poor, young and old. It has no regard for the boundaries of race or class or ethnicity or language that we lazily allow to make our meaning for us. 
Strangely, it may be that one thing we are meant to be learning in these days is that this is just how Christian witness and community is supposed to work. It’s supposed to be just that way—utterly egalitarian, refusing to outcast anyone, equally affirming and embracing of all. 
“I am the way, the truth, and the life”— behaving like the man who said those words is a good deal more demanding than simply saying we believe something about him. But anyone can do it—and many whom we might least expect would will be among the last who take the first seats in that expansive mansion.
The Right Reverend Mark D. W. Edington
Bishop in Charge
Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe

Tags: safety, the way, online church, coronavirus