Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)
May 10, 2020
Text: John 14:1-14
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says (John 14:1; ESV). These are troubling times. All our hearts are troubled these days in some way. Over the virus and those suffering and dying. Over those who have lost their livelihoods and the possibilities of epidemic hunger and homelessness throughout the world, and right here at home. Over the proper government response to all of this. Over the Church, which has been prohibited from gathering and receiving the Lord’s gifts. Our hearts have been troubled by what our friends think about all of this, with which we may or may not agree. And we’re troubled by what our friends may think about what we think. And, of course, the greatest trouble is, we cannot predict the future, and all of this is beyond any possibility of our control. Nevertheless, it is this very reality into which Jesus speaks: “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
Our Lord first spoke these words on the night in which He was betrayed. The disciples didn’t realize it, but they were on the cusp of very troubled times with the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus about to take place. Like we were at Christmas time, barely aware of a thing in China called coronavirus. The disciples were vaguely aware of Jesus’ passion predictions, and maybe a little troubled, but they didn’t want to let it get in the way of celebrating the Passover. Nevertheless, these words were extremely important for them in the reality they were about to experience, as they are to us. Because there is a Promise implicit in them. “I will defeat all that troubles your hearts by my death and resurrection. I will be with you in every trouble. You can trust me. And in the end, I will deliver you. You can carry that Promise with you all the way to the grave, and out again.”
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (v. 1). “Look, things are gonna get really rough, and it will appear as though all is lost. But keep your eyes on our Father who art in heaven. How? By keeping your eyes on me. For I am preparing a place for you, a home with the Father in His house, as His dear child, in fact, I am preparing a whole new creation. And I will come back for you to rescue you out of every trouble, so that you can be with me there, forever. And you know the way, because you know me.” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6). “But in me, as you come through me, my Father becomes your Father, and you become His royal child.”
How do we keep our eyes on Jesus, and so upon the Father? We keep our eyes on Jesus by keeping our ears on Jesus. And when we keep our ears on Jesus, we hear the very voice of the Father. Jesus, God’s Son, is the very revelation of the Father. He shows us the Father by showing us Himself. He reveals God to us as our God, who is not out to get us, but who loves us. Who is not against us, but for us. Who redeemed us rebellious sinners for His own by giving His only-begotten beloved Son into death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Our Lord Jesus, who is now risen from the dead, His saving work complete, is the Word of our Father, now in flesh appearing. And it is that saving reality of His atonement and resurrection that He speaks from the Father into your ears. He is in the Father, and the Father is in Him. Whatever Jesus speaks, that is the Father’s unchangeable decree. And what He says is that your sins are forgiven. You belong to the Father, baptized into His Son. You have a place at His Table, the Supper of Jesus’ crucified and risen Body and Blood. That is the reality. Believe it. Believe the One who speaks it. “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
You keep your ears on Jesus’ Word, and your eyes on Jesus’ works. The miracles, yes, recorded for our learning and comfort in the Holy Gospels. But so also His continuing work among you today in the Holy Church. We keep our ears on Jesus’ Word in the preaching, and in Scripture, and in Holy Absolution. We keep our eyes on Jesus’ works in the water of the font and the bread and wine of the Supper, under which Jesus Himself comes to us in all our afflictions, at the High Altar, and even in a garage chapel. And it is all a down payment of the Promise, a firstfruit, a beginning of the rescue He will accomplish when He comes again in glory to raise you from the dead.
Now this reality permeates our whole life, in joy and in sorrow, in good and in ill. It is the life of faith toward God (“Believe in God; believe also in me”), and of fervent love toward one another. And we need that fervent love especially in times like this. Because you know that God will take care of you, take care of those who are in need. Because you know your life is eternally secure in Jesus, care for the sick and protect the vulnerable. Because you know you have no need to fear, comfort those suffering any sadness or anxiety. We all have our ups and downs with this. As much as we need to comfort others, we ourselves need to be comforted. This Gospel is the true remedy, the only real comfort. We are redeemed in Jesus. We belong to the Father. And our home is with Him.
Now we are away from that home for a time. God has set us as strangers in a strange land. Our citizenship is in heaven, and by that citizenship we are truly free. But God has placed us in the world to be His emissaries, to serve our neighbor in love, and to preach the Gospel. There are two very difficult Words Jesus speaks in our Holy Gospel, and they both have to do with this. The first is: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (v. 12). This bothers a lot of people, because it sounds like the disciples will do even better works than Jesus, as if they could do things of a nobler quality than raising Lazarus from the dead, paying for the sins of the world on the cross, or our Lord’s own resurrection of Himself from the dead on the Third Day. But in this case, that is not what the word “greater” means. Jesus is here saying that because He goes to the Father (His ascension into heaven, where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty), He will continue the work He began in His earthly ministry. He will do it through His disciples, and it will be done to the ends of the earth. We get a taste of how this all works out in the Book of Acts. But it is not just the preaching and miraculous signs of the Apostles and the Early Church. This greater work goes on today, here and now, among you, as the risen Lord is present in His Church in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, and in your own witness and works of love as you live your Christian life in your daily vocations.
And it is in connection with this that we get the second difficult Word: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (vv. 13-14). This bothers a lot of people, because I asked for help finding my keys and they are still lost. Or more crassly, I asked for a ’65 Mustang to appear in my driveway, but it never happened. Or more seriously, I asked that my loved one would not die, but they did. But again, that isn’t what Jesus is telling you in this Promise. He is not a genie whose purpose is to grant your every wish. He says this in connection with these greater works. “Because I now sit at the right hand of the Father, and because I live and reign, you will address your prayers to me. And whatever you ask me in my Name concerning these works, my presence with you in Word and Sacrament, my presence with you in every affliction, your witness to the world, the things by which the Gospel is proclaimed and propagated, these I will do.” And the purpose is, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. That we, and many more, come to the Father, through the Son. That we have a home and a place with Him. That we be His very own.
“Let not your hearts be troubled.” Trust in God. Trust in His Son, Jesus Christ. The work and the Word remain. No virus and no government mandate can touch them. And nothing and no one can rob you of the life you have in Jesus. Do you see? You’re free! You belong to another Kingdom and you have another home. Jesus died for you. And He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! And He is coming back for you, to bring you home. Until then we wait, and we work, and we trust. We pray and let Jesus answer as He will. For we know He is working all things for our good. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.