Leading the Way

One of the notable things about Sir Winston Churchill was that he didn’t conceal the unpalatable truth from the British people during the war. He told them he had nothing to offer them but blood, sweat and tears. He did not sugarcoat his messages, had he have tried to do so he would have lacked credibility. The British people had faith in him as their leader and rallied behind him, and after six years of war he joined the royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to greet the crowds below celebrating Victory in Europe.

Churchill could not be described as a great Christian, he once described himself not as a pillar of the church but a buttress, supporting it from the outside. Churchill believed that a battle had to be fought between good and evil, Britain had to defeat godless Nazism and that it was his destiny to lead them to that victory.  It is difficult to imagine a victorious Britain without Churchill. He was in himself the way to victory.

In our gospel reading from St John, Thomas asks Jesus how they can know way if they do not know where he is going. Jesus replies that he is the way. Jesus had already described himself as the gate, now he goes further by saying he is the way. He doesn’t just indicate the way to the Father, he is the way. To have seen Jesus is to see the Father, he tells Philip, for he and the Father are one.

To say that no comes to the Father except through him may sound rather stark and exclusive; he sounds like a sentry at the gate, requiring a password. But the Jesus of John’s gospel is the word made flesh. He is logical and rational; one statement leads on to another. Jesus is the Word, so the words that he speaks are spirit and life. Jesus is the truth and the truth will set us free. Jesus is the life and knowing him brings life in all its fullness. If you took the text of St John’s gospel you could draw many lines across it linking the statements Jesus makes.

Much of the impact of Jesus was due to the fact that he spoke with authority and not with empty words. We look for integrity in our leaders, that they lead by example, that they practice what they preach, for, like Jesus with regard to the Pharisees, the people of this country cannot bear abide hypocrisy.

It has been said that our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, sees himself in a Churchillian mold. He has the unwelcome task of laying before us unpopular measures that we have to follow for our own good. He has to make us keep faith with him that it is right to stick to them. His brush with death cannot fail to have had an impact on him, and will no doubt affect his outlook on life and government.The way ahead of us is as uncertain as was the way before Churchill and this nation during the darkest days of war. This time of restrictions shows that we are strong as a people that we will be obedient for the sake of the greater good, and that when we have the facts presented to us, however unpalatable, we can be adaptable.

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during the war, wrote one of the finest commentaries on St John’s gospel and he described the dwelling places that Jesus talks about as resting-places along the way. He saw them as caravanserai, shelters at stages on a journey where travelers could rest. Wealthy travelers would send on their dragoman ahead of them to arrange it so that when they arrived they found comfort as well as shelter. Temple calls Jesus our spiritual dragoman, making ready these resting places at stages in our spiritual journey. Wherever we get to, he is there ahead of us, but he doesn’t just wait there, he comes to us to take us to where he is.

A friend rang me yesterday and when I asked her how she was she, said she was ‘getting there’. Where is there? I asked facetiously. Well wherever ‘there is’, she’s getting there!

We have more distance to travel along this journey before it is completed. But complete it we will. St John Henry Newman wrote in his hymn lead kindly light,

I was not ever thus nor prayed that thou shouldst lead me on

I loved to choose and see my path: but now lead thou me on.

We can draw hope and courage from the example of Churchill and our forebears who fought their way to victory in Europe against the odds. We must continue to be obedient to our leaders now and do whatever is required of us, but we should also look beyond them to our ultimate leader, Jesus, the way, the truth and the life. With faith in him, we need never be afraid.

 

John 14,1-14