In this passage Jesus promises his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them, that we sometimes refer to as, eternal homes or eternal dwelling places.
I don’t know about you but I feel like I’ve spent quite a bit of eternity in my dwelling place already. Ba dum ch
But living through this pandemic really it kind of alters what you want heaven to be like, doesn’t it? I want to ask, can there be eternal concerts, eternal parks, eternal restaurants? Not just, homes. I looked up some passages that affirm yes these are all part of it, I’ll comment them later for your enjoyment.
But all joking aside. We turn now in this season of Easter back to some of the beautiful promises Jesus made on the night he would be taken into Roman custody and later executed, to help his disciples not be completely heartbroken and despondent.
After the resurrection, we remember with them all that he had said, about what it will be like, after he is resurrected, and after we have resurrection, too.
He actually says very little about our resurrection, just that he is going to prepare a place for us. Since it is mother’s day, it made me reflect for a moment. I don’t know about you, but when I’m going to visit my family, it’s my mom who washes the sheets, gets the room ready, or when we go visit Pablo’s family, his mom rearranges furniture so we can fit; at least in that limited experience the person to prepare the room, is the mom. And you might know that when a woman is with child she usually has a period of time that we call “nesting” where she starts wanting everything to be purchased and in place for the baby. She wants to prepare the place for the life coming into this world. So we might compare what Jesus is doing for us, preparing our place, with this motherly tendency of nesting, for when we emerge into that next world, whatever it is like. There are motherly tendencies of God throughout Scripture that we sometimes skip over, and of Jesus, too. I usually like to refer to God as both Mother and Father for this reason. Every way we speak of God has its limits. Just like some fathers are great fathers and comparing them to God might seem natural, and others are not so great and might confuse what calling God “Father” really means, the same can go for mothers too.
But this question that the disciples raise is a question that we still wonder about today: How do we know the way to God? How do we know where we will be when this life is over? Thomas says, we don’t know where these dwellings are that you’re talking about, so how can we know the way? Jesus answers, I am the way. Then Philip follows up with, well just show us the Father, show us God, once and for all, then we can trust everything you are saying.
And Jesus answers that he has been revealing God to them the whole time. He has been showing them what God does, what God says. the way that Jesus was referring to isn’t about arriving at a destination. Because our life of faith isn’t about arriving at a destination, but living the way, living the truth, living the life Jesus wants for us. It is not a map nor even a GPS- it is a trusting relationship, a constant dwelling, with Jesus.
When I took a course on the gospel of John in college, we were each assigned a Greek word to trace throughout the gospel, in all its forms, and my word was meno. It means to dwell. It is used in John extensively, as a verb. Here it is in noun form when Jesus talks about the place that he is preparing. But the idea of meno throughout John is one of being together with Jesus in an intimate way, a way where he lives in us and we live in him, just as how he will say, if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father- the father is always dwelling in Jesus and Jesus in the Father, even if the Father isn’t physically present and Jesus is. This dwelling together is another way to talk about the trusting, mutual, life giving relationship that Jesus wants to have with us. He prepares our dwelling place, he is our dwelling. Here he also says, he is the way.
He is the way. Jesus explains in this passage,, you have been with me, don’t you remember all that I have said, all that I have done? It’s as if Jesus is saying, “All of that is the way.” And if we were to do a brief overview of John’s Gospel, we would see how Jesus healed the blind man, how he raised Lazarus from the dead, how he fed thousands of people with 5 loaves and 2 fish. And also hear how he taught about not judging others, but depending on God’s mercy, and how he is our good shepherd who cares for the sheep, and how he gave us the new commandment to love one another. And if we read the rest, we know the same Jesus out of love for us, will destroy death itself before the story is over. These are his works, these are his words. The words that his Father God gave him, the works that he says we will even surpass.
That verse always makes me pause. Surpass Jesus? Most of the time if I think I have done a little fraction of what Jesus would have done as far as showing love and compassion, I am on the right path. How would I ever get to doing bigger things than feeding thousands with 5 loaves and 2 fish, or healing someone blind since birth? But remember the you is not singular- it is plural. All of you together Jesus is implying, speaking to the disciples there in the room with him. And they would. They would carry forward the movement he started and do more healing and more feeding and show mercy and start new communities where transformation is possible. They would dwell in him, allow him to dwell in them, and follow his way. And they would teach the next generation, and the next, all the way to us in the 21st century.
Another reading for today is Peter—which talks about living stones being built together to be a temple for God. Jesus talks in John about going to prepare a place, eternal dwellings for his followers, and the counterpoint from the letter from Peter is that here and now we can be a dwelling for God. Again, this is less about individuals and more about community life. It is a beautiful image and I think is helpful for us, while we cannot be gathered in a building together, to let this passage remind us that it isn’t ever really about the building. That we are the church, we are the temple, together, of God’s presence here on earth. You and you and you and me, living stones, built together. Even now, even as we are in our homes which though it might not seem like it, we will not be in for eternity, even now we are God’s dwelling place, even now we are doing the works Jesus said we would do.
Such as, Our church has received some donated items from Cruising for Jesus and we have volunteers taking them to some families who might benefit from them. We signed up as Grace groups to celebrate birthdays in May at Open Gate, a local shelter and even in the pandemic we are figuring out how to do that, to spread joy in these crazy times. Several of you are making masks, making phone calls, writing letters and notes. You’re giving generously and taking care of your neighbors. Many of you are mothers, whether of little ones or older ones or adults, expressing your care in all the thousands of ways that mothers do, and those who aren’t mothers too, well I know of some examples of showing loving care from you, too.
As we do all of that, we are Being the church, having God dwell in us, even as we dwell with God and Jesus prepares eternal dwellings for us.
There are many beautiful promises in this passage and these promises are true- that there is an eternal dwelling that Jesus is preparing for us, that we can follow Jesus’ way, that we can know God because he has made God known to us, that we will be able to do yes even greater things as his followers, we are built into the temple that is the new house for God- all over the place! And these promises help us have another frame for this time, where we can lean on one another in the hardest moments, be the one being leaned on for someone else, we can reach out and find God in one another. That is the way, the truth, the life: the way of dwelling in God and letting God dwell in us, living in that trusting relationship with God and each other, even in these strange times, bless you all as you live out the dwelling way, Amen.