Raise your hand if you’ve heard this text at a funeral, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
Okay. You can put your hands down. I stopped counting at 743.
This text, Sunday’s gospel reading (John 14.1-14), is among the most-requested and best-loved images to which we turn at the time of death. When the one we love is no longer physically with us, when we strain to see into the next life, we comfort one another by imagining what is, for many, the safest place we know. Home.
Would you be disappointed to learn that when Jesus spoke these words, on the night before he was crucified, the only death he was pondering was his own? But only he knew what the next hours would bring. Instead, he was sharing a supper table with disciples who believed it to be a night like any other night, who would look back on that night and shake their heads, “Should we have seen it coming? Did you understand what he meant? Could we have done something differently?”
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Though they could not understand it in the moment, Jesus was promising them safety, welcome, shelter, all those things that “home” means for us. But not “Someday.” He was promising “home” in this life. He was promising “home” post-resurrection, when he would return to give Easter gifts of peace, forgiveness and purpose. (John 20.19ff) At the moment it seemed all was lost, he would return with “home.”
Yes, the image of a Father’s house with many rooms is a wonderfully comforting image for what waits for us when this life ends. But Jesus’ first intent was to bolster his disciples for this life.
We are as confused as Jesus’ disciples were with regard to the long-term impact of the pandemic. Yes, we know it will be a long time before we are back to our routines. Yes, we know this has been hardest on those least able to bear it. Yes, we know more about the novel corona virus and all its iterations than we ever cared to know. But none of us understands what it means. None of us can absorb the real impact of this medical, economic and spiritual crisis. It will be only in retrospect that the reasoned medical insight of Dr. Fauci, the calm explanations of Governor Pritzker, the urgent counsel of Mayor Lightfoot will make sense to us. Hindsight is not 2020, but 2021 and beyond.
“Should we have seen it coming? Did you understand what they meant? Could we have done something differently?”
Religious leaders across the globe are in conversation about when and how we will restore our faith communities to activity. The vast majority of leaders, across the religious spectrum, are respectful of stay-at-home orders and rightly cautious about returning to public worship. But some religious leaders, who regard themselves immune to both the laws of the land and the laws of nature, have already flung the doors open. “My house, my rules,” they boast.
I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when Jesus promised his disciples a home. I don’t think he intended for his people, his church, to be a fortress against which no enemy could prevail. “Home” is not an impenetrable fort. “Home” is not a place free of trouble. “Home” is not a castle ruled by a despot. “Home” is not a piece of real estate.
When Jesus promised “Home” he was speaking of us, of people, of a gathering of the faithful who make room for all. Sunday’s epistle reading (1 Peter 2.1-12) speaks of God’s people as a house of living stones. Until that day when we see Jesus face-to-face, when we take up residence in the house with many rooms, we are that house.
These days of absence from you are growing more difficult for me. More than you can know, I long to see you again, to sing beside you again, to share the Lord’s Supper with you again, to hold your strong hands. I understand the temptation to return to ”normal.” But, as much as I love our church building, it is not the building I miss. It is you.
God has made of us a house, with room for all. “In my Father’s house are many rooms, with a place for you,” Jesus promised. So, in these days of distance, we still lean into one another, we still take comfort in one another, we find shelter in our love for one another. And Jesus? Jesus is present among us always, everywhere. He is our true Home.
“See” you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post