St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788

E-mail: office@stmarymags.ca


The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

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Sermon

May 10th Homily Easter 5, 2020             John Marsh

(Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14)



"In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?                                                                                                                                                     (John 14:2)


This passage from the Gospel of John is often read at funerals. In that context we interpret the passage through the lens of death and so, not surprisingly, we hear the text as a poetic description of what life is going to be like after our death when we will receive our blessed reward.  


However, while this interpretation in the context of death may be understandable, the text is not primarily or originally about our blessed reward for a life well lived.  If we too easily allow our minds to wander off into the realms of glory, we run the risk of interpreting Jesus ideologically by which ‘the way, the truth and the life’ becomes little more than a confessional proposition, a creedal path we must walk in order to get our just rewards. When this happens, eternal life loses its connections to this world and is reduced to nothing more than that which only occurs after death.


As soon as we begin to posit eternal life as the afterlife, we tend to lose hold of this life.


As soon as we begin to think that ‘the way, the truth and the life’ is a matter of walking that right and correct path of ‘what’ we believe, the more we tend to separate faith – the way – from ‘how’ to be a follower of Jesus.  The more we make the way of Jesus exclusive - by which I mean, "We're on the right path - you're not; we understand - you don't; we see - you're blind - the more we turn the way of transformation into the way of separation and condemnation .


The more we make the truth embodied in the Christ exclusive (i.e. focusing first what we believe rather than how we live the good news), the more we give ourselves over to the forces of domination, control, mastery, and violence in all of its forms.  And, to be honest, historically, as Church, we have often done a rather good job of this.


What is being suggested in John’s gospel is a radically different vision, one that is often at odds with the series of suppositions and assumptions that we usually bring to the whole of John’s gospel.


As I, and many others have said before, whenever you hear a reference to 'eternal life’ in the Gospel of John, it is not a reference to some world on the other side of the rainbow; it is a reference to here and now.  Jesus as ‘the way, the truth and the life’ is not a passport to another world but is, rather, an invitation to an alternative way of living in this world, another way of living into the emerging possibilities of life.


Within the unfolding of possibility, John’s gospel speaks of where and how we discover divinity; it points to how we are to think, dream, plan, write, sing, and act within sacred creation. John’s gospel says that divinity, the sacred, the holy, is not to be found in some idealized future nor in projecting some perfect being onto the cosmos; rather, god is actually interwoven within the very fabric of creation, interwoven in the depth of who we are, interwoven into how we live our life.


Whenever we hear 'eternal life', we should hear what the other gospels call 'the kingdom of God' or 'the reign of God'. Eternal life is the presence within creation of a movement of spirit within the personal and social structures of the world.¹


Eternal life is the presence of god – perhaps - birthing alternative ways of being, a manner of living that is different from that which we all know too well – the endless domination systems of our history.


‘Eternal life’, as with the reign of God, is positing that within our constructed structures another way of being, another way of acting, and another way of relating is not only possible but is perhaps being birthed and is at work.


This is spirit at work.


Despite the strut and swagger gained by being capitalized, logos, the divine word or wisdom is spirit at work, perhaps expressions of the work we are called to risk embodying.


This suggests that that which we name as sacred is not somewhere ‘over the rainbow’; it is perhaps around us, within us. It is moving, challenging, raising a critique, inviting song, birthing new stories, inviting us to see with new eyes, to hear with new ears, to be different than that which we've been taught to be.


Jesus as ‘the way, the truth and the life’ is not about creedal conformity; it is not about maintaining a sense of confessional purity.  It is about living differently, recognizing that within our living, within our relationships, within our gathering, the sacred is perhaps to be found. It is about how we live the way of Jesus; it’s about how we live the truth of the compassionate one; it’s about how we live our life informed by his teaching.


In 1 Peter there is the phrase, to offer spiritual sacrifices. I would suggest that this is another way of talking about what it means to embody Jesus as ‘the way, the truth and the life’.  To offer sacrifice is to make something sacred, sacrum facere, sacred in a manner similar to a fire fighter whose loses their life saving another, not simply a loss, although it is that, but a giving which is sacred, life giving. To offer spiritual sacrifice, as a community of people, is not to embrace an exclusivist ideology in which we embody the right way; it is an invitation to help this world realize what is already true - the sacredness of creation.


From a theo-poetic perspective, what is true are invitations to reconsider the cosmos not as so much stuff but as mystery luring life.  


What is true is that one can live, see, and hear differently and consequently, we are to companion those still caught up in the domination systems, those still caught in those systems which try to exert control and mastery.


We are invited to help open eyes, to help open senses, to realize that the cosmos is sacred.²  


We are invited to reconsider how we live in this world, this country, this neighbourhood, and this community.


And when you begin to see differently, when you allow yourself to hear differently, when you allow yourself to be touched in the depth of who you are . . . you begin to live . . . differently.


Humanity needs to understand – we need to understand - that what was true of Jesus is true of us.  As has been said before, it is not so much that Jesus is god incarnate but that in the fullness of his humanity, Jesus incarnates god. In the fullness of our humanity, we are to incarnate god, to take the risk or better, cognisant of humility, we are to risk incarnating a call, a call astir within the name of god...


From within this understanding, this emerging awareness, this birthing of a new vision, this daring to dream new dreams, we are invited to live an alternative life, to proclaim an alternative vision, to speak a new political idea, to understand a new economic possibility, to dare to raise questions about people who are abused and ignored, hungry, dying.


Jesus is ‘the way, the truth and the life’, and, if we understand the depths of John's gospel, we realize so can we be.


I am not asking us to be what we cannot be; I am not asking us to ignore or deny physical, emotional, or spiritual limits – I am asking how we can communally and individually come alive.


"In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you… And where I am, you will be also."



¹ ‘Within creation’ has a personal, a historical as well as a cosmological focus. It transcends our perceptual boundaries of life and death as well as past present and future.

² In the Gospel of John, the Greek word ‘kosmos’ means ‘world’ - this world not another world; it is not a fantasy world. It's almost as if to say, 'Open your eyes, boys and girls, take a look around and see what is actually happening on the ground!'  Of course, it goes without saying that the ‘cosmos’ includes but also transcends our world.