The story of the Last Supper is a bit different in the gospel of John than in the other gospels. Jesus gathers the disciples for the Passover meal. He washes their feet as if he were a servant, an example for them of service, he outs Judas as his betrayer and he warns Peter that he will betray him. Then he makes a big long speech we’ve come to call the Farewell Discourse because that’s just what it is: the kind of speech you make when you’re leaving. And he is.
Jesus sees the concern, the anxiety, the nervousness of the disciples. They know something’s up, but they’re not sure what. So Jesus begins, “do not let your hearts be troubled,” a variation of his favourite thing to say: don’t be afraid.
Then he says, look, there’s a place for everyone with God, like a big house where everyone has their own room but we’re all living together like a family. That’s what I’ve been trying to show you, not just in the next life, but in this one, too. I’ve been showing you the way back to God and now, you know the way.
Thomas (who will later become famous for his questions) says to Jesus, “but we don’t know the way. How could we? It’s not like you’ve given us directions.” There’s a general murmur of agreement from the other disciples. Jesus sighs, shakes his head and then rests his forehead in the palm of one hand for a minute. Another big sigh.
“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” says Jesus. That’s how you come to God, just like I showed you. You know me, so you know God, too. It’s really the only way.
It’s Philip’s turn now. Show us God, then, he says. Since you’re the only way, show us God and we won’t be so afraid.
Another big sigh from Jesus, and a two handed face palm. All this time we’ve been together, how have you not understood this? he asks. I wonder if future generations will hear my story and not get it either.
Listen, I’ve been showing you God, every step of the way. It’s not words, it’s not directions, it’s not behaviour. It’s life. It’s how you live. That’s why I say I’m the way, the truth and the life. You can be that, too, because that’s how we come to know God. It’s not just me, it’s you, too. To believe in me is to believe in God and to believe in the divine that is in each other. Looks at it from the other end: to live the life that God has given you, be true to the good that has been in you from the beginning, because that’s the way I’ve been showing you. The divine spirit is in everyone, together with their humanity. That’s the way I’ve been showing you and it’s the why I’ve been showing you. The way to God is already in you, it’s in everyone. Be true to it and you’ll know God.
Now listen, I’ve got to tell you about the Spirit, too, and I’ve a few more things to share before I go. I don’t have much time …
Maybe that’s not the version of the story you’ve heard. But, read John 14. For the life of me (no pun intended), I can’t imagine that Jesus meant that we’d only meet God in the next life, nor that he, Jesus, was the only way to God. God’s much too big and way too inclusive for that, and Jesus knew it. That’s why he was trying to show us. That’s the Way.