St Philip and St James – Living the Divine I Am
This Friday 1st May is the saints day of Philip and James, and the gospel reading set for the festival is from John 14. This passage is probably familiar to many of us, and is very often used at funerals. Jesus is speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper, just before he is arrested and put to death; he is seeking to comfort his friends who don’t know what is about to happen, so that when it does, they are not wholly bereft and devastated.
At funerals, the reading often stops at verse 6 with the statement: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” These words have sadly often been taken by Christians as a claim to exclusivity, and thus have been a great challenge to those who would wish to see the love of God in a more inclusive and holistic way.
For me, these words were indeed a challenge rather than a comfort for many years. But now I embrace them, along with what comes immediately before and after in Jesus’ conversation with his disciples in John’s gospel. There are a few reasons I can do this. Firstly, Jesus is so clear that there is room for everyone in his Father’s house – “there are many dwelling places. If that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” When I read this, I hear Jesus telling us that everyone – and I do mean everyone – is welcome and has a place prepared especially for them in God’s house, in God’s presence. No one is left out, no one is rejected. After all, the Bible is clear that Jesus has come to renew all things (Matthew 19.28); restore all things (Acts 3.21) and reconcile all things (Colossians 1.20). All things – nothing is left out, seen or unseen, past or present or future. What a wonderful promise and encouragement that is!
I also reflect, in the light of God’s all-embracing, limitless and unconditional love for all his creation, on Jesus’ words “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” And I wonder if the key words in this statement are actually “I Am.”
When Jesus says “I Am”, he is stating his integrity and identity in God, and invites us to do the same. And I believe that it is true that to live with total integrity and honesty is the Way to God, it is the absolute Truth, and it does bring us Life – life in the sense of a vibrant aliveness in our being, rather than simply existing from day to day as so many people do.
Not fully understanding, Philip asks him to “show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” In response, Jesus points him back to the Divine that is contained within himself and within each and every one of us. Jesus has lived his life as one who can say “I Am”, and invites us all to do the same. And it is when we live in that light, that integrity of “I Am”, that the Divine light in each of us shines forth. It is then that God can be seen in us. When Jesus replies “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father… I am in the Father and the Father is in me” he is simply prefiguring that relationship into which we are all invited.
And this relationship is seen and experienced through action, not merely words. It is in how we live. And this is the point that Jesus seems to be making to Philip and all the disciples.
The disciples so often are examples to us, not because of how advanced and spiritual and knowing they are, but rather because they are, like so many of us, often slow to see or to understand, and because like us they are so flawed. Think of St Peter, who denied Jesus three times and was later commissioned by Jesus to lead his Church. Think of St Paul who utterly rejected Jesus and persecuted all who followed him, and ended up spending the rest of his life travelling the known world preaching the love of God in Jesus Christ.
We too are loved and called by God just as we are. We don’t have to do anything or become anything. Simply to say “I Am” and to allow the Divine in us to shine out and be seen, and to open our eyes and see it in one another. Not that it’s always easy! And the New Testament records its fair share of arguments between disciples! But to stand in the limitless love of God, shoulder to shoulder with one another as sisters and brothers in Christ, all saying “I Am”, and all seeing the God in one another, is a wonderful thing to strive for.
With love, light and peace,