Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O God, my strength and my redeemer.
In my father’s house there are many rooms…
I’ve always loved the idea of big houses;
not fancy mansions,
just comfortable old houses,
with quirky layouts and lots of rooms
– think the Walton’s’ farmhouse.
This might have come from the fact that
for most of my childhood
I shared a room with my sister,
and longed for a space of my own,
and it might have come from
my overly romanticized view of the world,
a view fed by lots and lots of fiction.
At any rate, my fantasy world was filled
with big old Victorian houses
with creepy attics,
and Revolutionary War era farm houses
with hidden passage ways,
and the occasional Camelot-like castle
with turrets and fireplaces big enough to stand in,
and four-poster beds hung with heavy drapes.
As an adult, I’ve learned that big houses
are both a blessing and a curse;
there is room to spread out, to be sure
but there are floors to mop
and bathrooms to scrub,
and windows to wash.
Big houses are a lot of work!
Nonetheless for many,
a house with many rooms
– or at least large room-like spaces
if you are a fan of the
“open floor plan” concept –
is part of the American dream.
No matter what our preference for house size,
the idea that in God’s house
there are many dwelling places,
where we will perhaps all have a room of our own,
is enormously appealing to us.
These are words of comfort to many people,
and no doubt contributes
to the popularity of this passage
as a funeral gospel.
The notion of a dwelling place on high
waiting to welcome those dear to us
who have departed this life,
waiting to welcome us, is comforting.
The idea that Jesus is preparing a place for us,
some grand hotel in heaven
with room service
and all the luxuries we could imagine,
well, it’s beyond reassuring.
The truth is, however, that that kind of vision
fits better with Paul’s writings
than it does with John’s
where it is actually found.
It’s Paul who holds out for us
the great eschatological image
of a heavenly life bye and bye.
For John, we are welcomed into that life NOW.
It is realized NOW.
It is present and ongoing.
And that is what he is trying
to convey to his disciples.
This familiar passage comes from a part of John’s gospel
known as “the Farewell Discourse,”
a long talk Jesus had with his disciples
in the time between the last supper
and his arrest later that night.
It might seem odd that now, after the fact,
we are concentrating on Jesus’ going–away words.
In fact, this speech to his followers
was Jesus’ attempt to give them
a foretaste of what was to come,
and a better grasp of what they already had,
so that they could understand
the tumultuous events
that were about to unfold.
In that light, we might use these words
as we continue to process what
Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension
meant and continue to mean for US.
In John’s gospel the one over-riding theme
woven through the narrative
is the importance of Jesus’ incarnation;
the fact that God,
out of love for the people God created,
took on human flesh
so that they could more fully
experience that love,
incorporate into their own lives,
and share it with others.
The flip side of that incarnation is, of course, death;
all living things ultimately must die.
his life, death, and resurrection, however,
give that ultimate destiny new meaning,
because love, God’s love, trumps even death,
God’s love transcends the death we often fear.
The other key piece of John’s theology
is the notion of what scholars call
a “realized eschatology,
a fancy way of saying that we don’t have to wait
until the end times to experience
the fullness of God’s love,
the power of God’s realm
It’s available for us here; it’s present for us NOW.
And that is the ammunition
that Jesus is providing for his disciples
in the farewell discourse:
a glimpse into life after the resurrection,
and even beyond that, after the ascension,
for in John’s gospel it is an ascended life
to which we are all headed,
and a recognition that in that ascended life
we share in the intimate bond
shared by Jesus and God.
Where Jesus is,
where God is,
we are also there.
And so Jesus proclaims,
“In my father’s house there are many rooms,”
(or mansions, or dwelling places, or rooms to spare,
depending on which translation you prefer.)
“I am going to prepare a place there for you.”
It should come as no surprise
that Jesus’ disciples don’t get.
Literalists to the end, they wonder where it is
that Jesus is going, and how they will ever find him.
And then Jesus makes iteven more complicated by saying,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you will know my Father also.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
The disciples struggle mightily with this.
“Just show us!” Phillip exclaims,
and Jesus patiently
(or maybe not so patiently) answers him.
“Don’t you get it yet, Phillip?
If you know me,
and you DO know me,
you know the Father.
From now on you do know him
and you have seen him
because you have seem me.”
For faithful Jews,
all of whom know that NO ON
…not even Moses…
has seen the Father,
seen God face to face,
this would’ve been hard to digest.
But in fact, that is Jesus‘ message:
he has come so that they might
see God face to face,
know God in a new way,
and knowing God in that way,
be reinvigorated to do God’s work in the world,
resting in the full knowledge
of the heavenly kingdom
that Jesus was preparing for them,
and that they were already inhabiting.
It was a promise of hope,
full of God’s love and grace.
We, like Phillip and Thomas and the rest,
still struggle with this theology.
The whole idea of knowing God
by knowing Jesus is not so foreign to us.
We are, after all, thoroughly immersed
in the doctrine of the Trinity,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier,
One in three, three in one,
a concept hinted at
but not fleshed out in the gospels.
But like Phillip and Thomas we want a roadmap.
We want clear directions, a GPS,
something concrete to let us know
that we are headed the right way,
that we do, in fact, know God.
Jesus’ message is clear, if we have ears to hear.
Throughout John’s gospel Jesus reminds us
that God is with us through Jesus,
using vivid imagery to make it real:
I am the good shepherd;
I am the true vine;
I am the light of the world;
I am the bread of life;
and now, I am the way.
Jesus reassures us that God abides with us now
and will continue to abide with us always,
and Jesus reminds us that in God’s realm,
there is room for all of us.
We who know Jesus already know God,
we already have a place with God,
enfolded in God’s love.
And in God’s house there are rooms to spare (CEB).
Rooms to spare. Imagine!
Room for all, no matter how we get there,
what path we take to God,
there is room to spare.
In this multicultural world we inhabit,
this may be the most important part of this passage.
If we can grasp this, truly live into it,
it is enormously freeing.
It frees us from worrying, arguing, debating, legislating, and otherwise trying to determine who is in and who is out.
It frees us to truly love our neighbor,
whoever and wherever that neighbor is found.
It frees us to concentrate
on living the life God calls us to live,
on embodying the values
Jesus taught and modeled,
and on doing the work the Holy Spirit
empowers us to take on.
It allows us to do so whole heartedly,
resting in the assurance of God’s love for us
and for all of humanity.
That is the good news of the resurrection, then and now.