The Very Rev'd Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark
Acts 7.55-end; 1 Peter 2.2-10; John 14.1-14
Satnav is such a great thing. No longer do you have to struggle in the passenger seat with an oversized, unmanageable road map, trying to work out whether you’ve got it upside down or the right way up and then realising you’ve been directing your dad up a crease! There it is, on the dashboard, working it all out for you, updating itself, altering the route to avoid problems and telling you, normally quite accurately, what time you’ll be at Aunt Bertha’s so that you can tell her when to put the kettle on.
It's great but I realise that I’m beginning to forget the routes that I used to have in my head. I know its wrong to speak about people when they’re not around to answer back but my colleague Canon Wendy is rubbish at directions. She simply can’t work out whether its left or right that she has to go. She admits it; never accept directions from her! But by contrast I’ve always been quite good, I can remember a route if I’ve driven it before, I tend to instinctively know which direction we’re travelling in – but satnav is making me lose some of that instinctive and memorised behaviour.
The disciples have been on the move with Jesus for three years. You get the sense in the gospels that he was the one who navigated, who knew the direction of travel, and as the name disciples suggests, they followed. But by the time we get to the passage that we’ve just heard, the travelling is over. They’ve arrived in Jerusalem and are in the Upper Room. A meal has been shared, feet have been washed, Judas has stormed out and the disciples are wondering what’s going on.
Jesus though says something that’s so significant for them and for us. So deeply disturbed are they by all the things they’ve heard and witnessed since they arrived in that room that Jesus says to his friends, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ And then he goes on to say
‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’
As the penultimate of those seven ‘I am’ sayings in St John’s Gospel, those seven descriptors of the divine nature that Jesus gives to us, this is the fullest, the most descriptive. ‘‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’
Jesus is the route map for our living; Jesus is the meaning behind all things; Jesus is our essential and our eternal nature – way and truth and life. We can chuck away the sat nav, ignore the other voices, stop searching for the well of our being. In Jesus we have it all.
But he then adds to what he has said
‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’
The first event I went to associated with the Coronation was a gathering on Thursday in City Hall. At the invitation of Mayor Sadiq, I went with representatives of some of the other faith communities and those of no faith, to take part in an event which marked the Coronation of their Majesties for the people of London. In the Assembly Chamber were the Mayors of all the boroughs in London, representatives from organisations and charities and lots of young people. I was there with a Jewish Rabbi, with a member of the Muslim community, a Hindu, a Sikh and a humanist. We were each asked to say what our hopes and expectations were for the new King and his reign, and, if we wanted to, to say a prayer.
It was a great honour to speak on behalf of the whole Christian community but also a particular privilege to do so as a priest in the Church of England, with the special place that we have in the nation and in relation to the King who’s both our Supreme Governor and holds that Papal gifted title ‘Defender of the Faith’. It was of that privilege and the responsibility that goes alongside it that I spoke to the gathered audience and to my sisters and brothers from those other communities sat with me.
‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’
In our wonderfully diverse, multi-cultural, multi-faith, sacred and secular culture and not least here in London, how do I hold to what Jesus says, the one who is our way, our truth, our life, the only way, the only truth, the only life, whilst recognising the rich and honest and life-giving faith traditions represented here, as well as the goodness and humanity of those who do not see a divine source in human nature or a divine hand on human history?
St Peter in our Second Reading adds to the complexity when he describes us in exceptional terms
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.
There is a haiku written by the 17th century Samurai, Mizuta Masahide, like every haiku it’s over before its begun, so here it is twice
Barn’s burnt down.
I can see the moon.
Each of us there in City Hall had been barn builders; people like Stephen, our first martyr, our brother deacon, with an angel’s face, have helped us to build it. Saul the persecutor turned promoter of the faith was a barn builder par excellence. We have each built our barns and the riches of our faiths are stored within them. But sometimes, Masahide is suggesting, we have to have the courage to step out of them, if not burn them down, to see the moon – and when we dare to do so we discover that it’s the same moon that we will see. And whilst we may return to the barn we can never forget the moon.
I am committed to the way, I am committed to the truth, I am committed to the life, I am committed to Jesus and I wish all my sisters and brothers could be in the way that I am. But they have also spied the moon and know about the divine, have breathed God, brushed eternity, stood for peace, known love – and I can’t dismiss or ignore any of that.
The King is the Defender of the Faith and the definite article has remained even though there was much speculation in the past, and knowing His Majesty’s own passions for a rich spirituality, that it might be dropped. But I hope that the ‘THE’ can be inclusive, embracing – as we saw displayed in the Coronation yesterday - that we can learn even more about travelling together, speaking truth in love and fostering life for all people, and I hope that The King can help us to do that even better than we’ve learnt to do it in the last few decades.
‘Now you have received mercy’ say St Peter to us, the mercy of humility and the grace that comes through sharing in the divine life, the intimacy of the Upper Room at the heart of every Christian community and the focus of every Eucharist. In the bread we see Jesus, but in the world and in each other we always see God and need to step beyond the security of our barns to catch a glimpse of the moon.