You can see all the lectionary readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A by clicking here. I have chosen to discuss only the Gospel reading.
A lot of times I like to paraphrase the Gospel story as I write. This week I’m not able to paraphrase very well because it just seems best to go ahead and put it in Jesus’ own words (well, in the English translation we have of Jesus’ own words). This week’s Gospel lesson is about another time Jesus spent with his followers after his resurrection. Jesus is talking to his disciples and tells them not to be troubled but to trust in God and to trust in him. He tells them, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you. After I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back. Then I will take you with me, so that you can be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Remember Thomas, who is curious (not just doubting)—he is the one to ask a question here: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas is the kind of guy who likes to be more certain he knows what’s going on. Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father too. But now you know the Father. You have seen him.”
Philip responds with, “Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need.” (Isn’t it a shame Thomas gets a rep for being Doubting Thomas? No one ever talks about a Demanding Philip.)
Jesus answered, “Philip, I have been with you for a long time. So you should know me. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father too. So why do you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The things I have told you don’t come from me. The Father lives in me, and he is doing his own work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or believe because of the miracles I have done.
“I can assure you that whoever believes in me will do the same things I have done. And they will do even greater things than I have done, because I am going to the Father. And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you. Then the Father’s glory will be shown through the Son. If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.
I like the part about “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father too.” It’s the heart of the story here—God sent us Jesus to show us Himself.
I’m less comfortable with the end of Jesus’ speech, because it’s been taken to mean some pretty crazy things by some Christians. “And if you ask for anything in my name, I will do it for you.” I once attended a church where people were into the prosperity gospel (believing God wants believers to be prosperous and all it takes is faith to have success, money, healing, whatever—flip side is if you have any problems you must just lack faith—I consider that very damaging theology). The day a teacher got up and said he felt he lacked faith because he gave his daughter Tylenol I walked out and never returned. Anyway, I think the key to that verse is the “in my name”. It’s not a magic formula—if I just pray “In Jesus’ name” I can have whatever I want. I think it’s more about praying in accordance with what Jesus himself would want—praying in His way, if you will.
I also love how Jesus promised that those who believe in him will do great things. You could talk about how we can do great things for Jesus in our own community—for instance in our church we have a program that provides breakfast to the homeless every Thursday morning. And the Episcopal church at large has so many programs of great things they are doing out in the world. For instance, Episcopal Migration Ministries is helping refugees (click here for more info and while you’re there, click the Ministries tab near the top right and see how many other amazing things the church is doing for Jesus).
We know a lot about Jesus from the Gospels talking about what he did healing and helping and also the stories he himself told about how we should live. From there we can see the great things he did and how we can then do our own great things in our own communities. I believe that we have to look for where God is at work and join Him there—healing and helping around the world.