Easter V at Westminster Abbey 2008

20 April 2008

Thomas said to Jesus, Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?  Jesus said to him, I am the Way.   John 14: 5f

In many ways Thomas gets a bad press.  He does seem a bit obtuse yet his rather stodgy personality masks a man of passionate loyalty and his questions elicit profound responses from Jesus.  This is one. ‘I am the road, the way, the truth, the life…’  Roads, ways, have been in the news recently, whether actual or figurative. The Olympic Torch has had to be re-routed in several places and its goal of uniting humanity has been undermined, most would say with good reason.

‘Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road’ chortled Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz (if anyone of you is old enough to remember it).  She did follow it and reached the goal, the dwelling of the Wizard.  But when the curtain was drawn back to reveal him, it was all a bit disappointing, hardly the Beatific Vision.  As a child I determined if I couldn’t be another Shirley Temple I would look for that yellow brick road and reach the end of it and not be disappointed. As a Christian one was on a winner anyway!

I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, says Jesus. He so mediates God’s truth and God’s life that he is the very way to God.  God is like Christ, wrote Michael Ramsey, and in God is no un-Christ-likeness at all. Follow me, says Thomas a Kempis of Christ, I am the straightest way, the sovereign truth, life true, life blessed, life uncreated.  Can he be that for everyone, those outside the church as well as those in it; the strong as well as the weak; the successful as well as the needy. And all in reverse, the weak as well as the strong, the needy as well as the successful.

Following the way takes varying forms. With a hundred young people here with us this morning, from Adelaide South Australia, we are reminded of the thousands of young men, the Australian New Zealand Army Corps, (the Anzacs) who perished in 1915 on the beaches of Gallipoli, Turkey.  Their motivation may not have been a consciously religious one, but they gave their lives for others in the spirit of Jesus. There was something of his spirit also in the attitude of Kemal Ataturk, President of Turkey. ‘You mothers who sent your sons to a faraway country, wipe away your tears. They lie now with our sons in the bosom of our land, they have become our sons too.’ 

And to follow the way we don’t have to have it all together, our lives sorted out.  The way is accessible in whatever state we are. Helen Luke, a wise and greatly respected Jungian Analyst in USA, wrote once, ‘Wherever you are now, that is where the way begins.  If you are in a ditch, that is where the way begins.’  That is true for each one of us here.

Arthur Stace was in a ditch, a very deep one. A Veteran of WW1, he was born in Sydney towards the end of the 19th C.. He was brought up in a slummy neighbourhood by alcoholic parents.  He himself became an alcoholic and indulged in gambling and petty crime, and soliciting for his sister who ran a brothel.  His schooling was almost non-existent and by 12 years old he had become a ward of the State, by 15 he was in jail. 

On 6th August 1930 when he was about 45, he wandered into St. Barnabas’ Church, Broadway on Parramatta Rd. and was deeply moved by what he saw and heard there. He was converted to Christ and experienced God’s forgiveness. Thus began a journey with Christ the Way that brought him happiness and peace.  Two years later at a Baptist Church he heard a sermon by an English Evangelist, John Ridley, ‘Eternity, Eternity; what a remarkable, uplifted and glorious word.’ Ridley cried, ‘I wish I could sound and shout that word to everyone in the streets of Sydney.’  Arthur was again touched deeply: ‘Eternity went ringing through my brain’, he said ‘and suddenly I began crying and felt a powerful call from the Lord, to write that word.’  So he did write it for the next 35 years, in chalk on Sydney’s streets, mostly in the early morning with no one around.  For a long time no one knew who was the source of the word Eternity written all over the Sydney pavements. He who could hardly write his own name was astounded that he could write the word, Eternity in beautiful copperplate. ‘If you are in a ditch, wrote Helen Luke,’ that is where the road begins.’  Could that be true of nations and societies as well as individuals like Arthur?

The early Christians were called Followers of the Way.  This following, this journey, like ordinary ones, can be beset with difficulties of our own and others’ making (Terminal 5 hang your head!). But whatever the difficulties, the doubts, the despairs, the failures, the chaos in the world around us and at times within us, we just press on, one step at a time.  Alice Meynell a little known Edwardian poet wrote,

You are the Way.

Had you been nothing but the goal

            I cannot say

If you had ever met my soul.


            I cannot see-

I, child of process-if there lies

            An end for me,

Full of repose, full of replies.


            I’ll not reproach

The road that winds, my feet that err.

            Access, Approach

You are, Time, Way and Wayfarer.

Perhaps St. Catherine of Siena meant something like this when she wrote, ‘All the way to heaven is heaven, because Christ said, I am the Way.’

On the Eve of the new Millennium, Olympic year for Sydney, several of us Sisters stood in a park on the shores of the harbour, with the Bridge facing us across the water.  As the clock struck midnight there burst into the night sky streams of light, showers of stars and cascades of pulsating colours and shapes. Cries of delight echoed around the shores.  During this breathtaking extravaganza there appeared  etched in light on the bridge the five rings of the Olympic movement. In a nation usually associated with sporting prowess rather than its religious sensibilities, one would perhaps have expected, as the rings faded, to see on the bridge the words, Aussie, Aussie, Aussie go, go, go.  But instead in beautiful copperplate handwriting, shining brilliantly, was emblazoned the word, Eternity.  Arthur’s walk with Christ the Way has not been in vain.

Sister Judith CSC