“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” When choosing scripture passages for the funeral of a loved one, a number of people choose today’s Gospel because of that statement in it. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” There seems to be comfort in hearing Jesus say these words.
But how do we picture those “dwelling places”? How would you describe what Jesus proclaims today? If, for example, you were trying to advertise heavenly lodgings as a realtor might, what would you say?
• Well, I suppose there is the obvious: “The view is out of this world.” (Wait, it gets worse.)
• “Heavenly vistas! No, Really, it is heavenly…”
• It’s a ‘Must-see to believe’ and “must believe to see” dwelling.
• And the great selling point: “Down payment already paid by generous benefactor.”
Hell’s realtors, I suppose, would have a tougher sell:
• Shady history blocking you from your dream home – no problem here!
• Save on utilities – no furnace required.
Instead of those kinds of pitches, we simply hear Jesus saying: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” But what is this dwelling place Jesus speaks of? Some have imagined magnificent mansions in the sky, rooms outfitted with every amenity, streets paved with gold. But what we need to understand is that the “Place” Jesus has prepared for us is simply: “relationship.”
Jesus is speaking of relationship; of bringing us into ever deepening relationship with his Father-God. He wants us to enjoy the life-giving, everlasting relationship that he already experiences with the Father.
Certainly Jesus does not live in a gleaming mansion in the sky, rather in a deep, intimate, loving and abiding relationship with God his Father. He says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” And that is where Jesus wants us to be as well.
A mansion in the sky might be nice to picture, but what makes a mansion, a hovel, or any residence a home is not its size or magnificence. It is the loving relationships that exist within its walls. Jesus has prepared for us the deepest connection with God, with one another, and with all living things. Jesus is not interested in finding us a place on a gold paved street, but a place in the heart of God.
And here is the kicker. He wants us to know that connection NOW – not once we have kicked the proverbial bucket. That’s why we’ve got to learn relationship now: How to have space in our hearts for one another that we might have space in our hearts for the other. Jesus is all about relationship. Nothing else. Now is the time for us to get to know him.
There is a short poem called, “Vigil” by Jane Tyson Clement which speaks to this knowing, this relationship:
If Jesus simply came walking out of the woods this morning, how would I know him?
Would I know him by his step?
Would I know him by my own beating heart?
Would I know him by his eyes?
Would I feel on my shoulder the burden that Jesus carries?
Would I rise and stand still till Jesus drew near?
Would I cover my eyes in shame?
Or would I simply forget everything except that God is here.
Or would I simply forget everything except that God is here?
That is the ‘listing’ that Jesus is truly trying to make this day – an invitation, not to streets paved in gold, but to live in that communion of life and love we already foreshadow here at the altar. And, if like Thomas, you feel like don’t know the way, then spend some time, as did Jane Clement did – by the edge of the proverbial woods – waiting, opening yourself – so that you forget everything except that God is here…