We have a home to go to.
Many say the following are some of the loveliest words in the Gospel..
“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.” Jesus is not only comforting the disciples on the last night of his earthly life, he is continuing to teach them of the gift of relationship they are in, with him.
When I sit with a bereaved family, and we discuss the funeral service, I invite them to consider what Bible reading they would want to have. The funeral service in the Prayerbook has a list of suggestions; and also three readings printed out which are commonly used. In most cases families don’t know what their loved one would like… but when they hear me read out John 14: 1-6 invariably they say… that one, he or she would like that one. Which reminds us all that funerals are for the living. These words from John’s Gospel bring comfort, reassurance….
What is that comfort? Whether of faith or not the message of continuity of life is heard. The image of home is strong. And Jesus is there; he is preparing a place for those who believe; he will come and ‘take you to myself’ – such lovely words, such a lovely image. It resonates with the words in Peter’s letter that is part of today’s readings….
“for you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls”. (v25)
It is not a surface comfort; and it resonates far more deeply and eternally than imagining grannie or grandad sitting by the fireplace as usual, comfortable in their new home in heaven. Peter’s letter states the context of the care of the shepherd, and the reality context that Jesus is saying to his disciples… that he Jesus himself had to go first to prepare such a home, to enable not only the home but the pathway. Peter writes in the verse before verse 25…..
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (v24)
Jesus couldn’t put it like that on the night before he died; it would have confused the disciples even more, probably. They were already in deep grief; they knew deep down what was going to happen… but the reason? Why would Jesus purposefully choose to come to Jerusalem where the church leaders and politicians were waiting to put him to a shameful death? Why? It was only in the post resurrection truth, as Jesus continued to teach until his Ascension, and the disciples – and those who followed him – began to connect all his teaching with his continued life, that the truth of who he is became their truth. He is their home; he is our home.
Then they would have remembered his words on that fateful night; and they, like us, would be struck by Jesus saying over and over… “believe”.
“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me….” (v 11) Over and over he teaches that relationship with him is based fundamentally on the assent to“I believe”.
Have you had stand up arguments with your children, or with friends, or even with people you don’t know that well… who challenge you in your faith when you say “ I believe”. The argument, and it can become an argument, is often tested only at the intellectual, factual level. (Take journalist Phillip Adams for example – mind you, he writes and talks so much about the God and Jesus he doesn’t believe in that ‘I think he protesteth too much’.)
Jesus is appealing for belief on a totally different level, and in a unique way. For Jesus, belief means trust. That’s what he was saying to the disciples that night. Have trust in me, have faith in me, have confidence in me. Your knowing of me is your pathway of belief.
He says it quite clearly in response to Thomas (aren’t we grateful for Thomas, asking the questions we all want to ask?). When Thomas blurts out…
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus says to him…”I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (v5,6)
Now, here’s the thing. I often wonder that some family members choosing the funeral reading include the second sentence of verse 6, ie, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Because whatever comfort is being held in the previous words of reassurance is completely challenged in Jesus’ uncompromising statement – there is no other way to God except through me. No. Other. Way. Knowledge, and the knowing, of God is solely through the person, the words and the works of Jesus Christ. It is in fact, it seems to me, the most confronting statement in the Gospels. Or perhaps I mean it sums up the Gospels….
We all, humanity, have a homing instinct in us. Fourth century Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote, in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” In the turmoil of our humanity, with free will and the willingness to live in self-sufficiency, this restlessness is actually a blessing. It is a longing, an awareness of something missing, it is a yearning for meaning and an appetite yes, for self-fulfilment – but not for the self. It is looking for the invitation that we know exists – where did we put it? What was it about again….
The first words Jesus said to the men who became his first disciples were simply … “Come and see”. (John 1:39) They left the life they had and followed him. And that is all Jesus asks of each of us – to follow him. In that following he will show us the way. He will give us our bearings. This will not protect us from a world of human pain and suffering. But in giving us his bearings, his directions, and our decision to listen and follow.. we will not get lost, and we will not give into despair. Because Jesus is our home, and our home-base, and he points us always in the direction of that home. As the psalmist wrote in today’s psalm:
“Be for me a rock of refuge, a fortress to defend me:
for you are my high rock and my stronghold.
Lead me and guide me for your name’s sake:” (v3,4)
People of faith, and those who say they don’t have faith, will choose John 14 for the funeral reading. Gill chose it for Malcolm’s funeral this week. I said in my reflection then, as I often do, that this reading is not about what happens after earthly death. It is what happens in the now, in our “I believe”. Jesus starts making his home straight away, our home with him, in him. It is in that home, that relationship, that Jesus is claiming the kingdom now, eternal relationship with God now. There is no line in the sand; our knowing of Jesus the Christ “is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)
You see, Jesus doesn’t believe in death, he doesn’t know death, so he doesn’t talk about it, or teach about it. When he talks about his Father’s house on the night before he died he was outlining the pathway to make the eternal home real, and eternally living with him real. The pathway is the cross, and it is the empty cross. He conquered death, so that he could be our home always. To the end of the age. Amen.