Twelve or thirteen years ago there was a group of kids who went to school for the first time. No doubt there was plenty of excitement that day. Kids instinctively know that going off to school represents a big change in their lives. They’re excited to learn, sure, but even more than that, they are excited to grow, to stretch out, to get older. They are like plants that, having coming through the topsoil stretch skyward, greedy for the sunshine. But I’d be willing to bet that there was some fear and uncertainty that day too. What was the teacher going to be like? And the other kids? Would they be nice or maybe not so much? What about classes? Would they be hard? It’s one thing to get your own backpack and a desk with your name on it at the school; it’s quite another to be forced to move on from what you know, whether it be familiar daycare or mom’s side. On the cusp of something new and unknown, there was uncertainty. What was going to happen?
In our reading from the Gospel of John, the disciples are caught in uncertainty. For three years they have gone around with Jesus. They have listened to him preach; they have seen him heal the sick; they have even witnessed him raising Lazarus from the dead. It has been a busy and amazing time together. And now, he has brought them together for one last meal together, the Last Supper. And he has told them that the time has come for him to leave. He will be killed the next day. They did not expect this. They were not prepared for it. They did not know what to do.
To make the situation even more tense and bewildering, during the supper, just before our verses begin, Jesus reveals something shocking, “One of you will betray me.” They don’t quite fully understand, even when Judas gets up and leaves the room, but there’s no doubt that it is unsettling.
And some days the uncertainty just pours down. After Judas leaves they continue talking together about the future. Peter looks forward with bravado and declares, “I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus replies, “the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”
For three years they have been a group together, depending on each other, living together, eating together. Now it all seems to be changing so fast and they can hardly catch their breath. Jesus is going to die? One of them is a betrayer? Faithful Peter is going to deny Jesus? The future which they have been looking forward to now seems so uncertain.
And so Jesus begins to comfort them. That is what our gospel lesson is about. Jesus is speaking words of comfort to his disciples who are faced with a very uncertain future. First he tells them that they’re not going to be separated forever. That he’s going to his father’s house where he will prepare a room for them and then he will come back and bring them too. And then he adds, by way of reassurance, “You know the way where I am going.”
Thomas cries out in frustration and anxiety, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” He may as well have said, “Lord, what are we going to do without you? What’s going to happen to us?” On the cusp of something new and unknown, there is uncertainty.
On a day like today, we might well have questions like Thomas did. “Lord, I don’t what’s going to happen when I leave home. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to pay for school. I don’t know if the Guard will accept me. And where are they going to send me? Will I be able to get a good job and get ahead in life? What am I going to do with an empty house now that my kids are gone?
When Thomas cries out, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus answers him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Thomas cries out in uncertainty. Jesus Christ responds with certainty.
When you cry out in uncertainty, or just wonder to yourself in private, Jesus Christ responds, “I am your certainty. You can count on me. Whatever else is going on, wherever you’re going, I am the one who assures your future.” What does this mean? For one thing, it means that your future isn’t some kind of destination, some kind of goal towards which you are moving. If your goal is a college degree, one day you’ll find yourself graduated and wondering what to do. If your goal is the military, one day you’ll find yourself discharged and wondering what to do. If your goal is to start a family, one day you’ll find that your kids are leaving home and you’ll be wondering what to do. Jesus Christ says, “I am the way. I am the certainty. I am the one who doesn’t change. I have chosen you. All the rest of it can change all it wants to, my promise to you doesn’t.”
Graduates, you are headed into a great deal of uncertainty. I’d love to give you all kinds of wisdom that I’ve picked up along the way, but here really isn’t the place for it. What I want to tell you today isn’t my wisdom; it’s just the truth. In all of the uncertainty into which you now step, Jesus Christ is your one and only certainty. If that seems strange or difficult to understand, don’t worry. The disciples didn’t understand it too well either. But that’s what Jesus told them. And then he followed through.