Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)
Preparing for a strange end of Lent and Easter season, I turn to the Gospel of John to learn from Jesus how to deal with anxiety, fear, concern, and death. Embedded in the narrative of John’s Gospel is an interesting description of human response to anxiety. The Farewell Discourse, found in Chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel, details how Jesus addresses the reality of his death, names the human responses to distress, fear, and concern, and ends in a prayerful hope for what the life of faith may be for those who follow Jesus. John’s Gospel is the Good News (Gospel means “Good News”) we need to hear. John’s words connect us with several human parallels. He illustrates through the last days of Jesus’ life: where we go when we are upset, how we respond to grief and fear, and why when one thing should be the most important, we can still miss it.
From the outset of John 13, Jesus knows the time even when disciples and those around him do not. Jesus gathers the disciples together to celebrate the Passover meal, but for John the meal has less central significance than the act. His act is to wash the disciples feet; this act embodies what love looks like. Love serves and attends to the need of the others even when one’s own focus could be elsewhere. John’s Gospel portrays Jesus acting like the lowest among them by washing their feet and not as the Omnipotent (all powerful) Son of God. Though Jesus is often referred to as Rabbi within John’s Gospel, Jesus does not teach the connectivity of the Passover Meal with his Crucifixion action. Rabbi Jesus teaches not with the elements of bread and wine, but rather with water and towel. Until 13:6 the disciples seem moved, if not confused, but Simon Peter says what we would all be thinking, but afraid to speak. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus’ response is epic: “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (13:7) The same words Jesus spoke to Peter are ones that we are still trying to process in our current context. Perplexed and unnerved by a situation that does not make sense and makes us feel powerless, we cry out to God. God’s action remains
present even if we are unwilling or unable to comprehend what is occurring. The truth is we are only able to apprehend what God is doing after the fact. (Even then, we still do not always understand it fully.)
In the very next chapter Philip says, “show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” ‘If only’ statements make us feel that things will be better with only one detail. The reality is that Jesus has been revealing the Father to the disciples his entire ministry with them. They are not able to understand because their fear of Jesus’ death, their apprehension of denial, and the uncertainty of what will come next cause those responses them to forget what they know. When panic sets in, our response is to flee or forget what we know to be true. Peter denies Jesus because of the fear of what others might do to him. Jesus’ invitation is for us to trust God’s word and what God has done and will do, even when things are uncertain.
When all in the world is uncertain, Jesus invites us to two faithful responses in chapters 15 and 17. In Chapter 15, Jesus reminds us that life is found in abiding with Jesus and the Father. How we are able to do this, even in anxious times is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ words in chapter 17 are insightful for how we persist. We continue in faith using our dialogue of faith: prayer. Jesus’ prayers are powerful as prays for himself, his disciples, and all who believe. We remain connected with God even in the worst of times by communicating in faith with the God who gives us what we need for the scariest times of our life: the Holy Spirit. Amen.