“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 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? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” John 14:1-4
The words of today’s gospel are most often heard during a funeral service. It is a popular choice of scripture for that occasion because the words provide wonderful assurance that the one who has died in Christ has now taken up residence in their heavenly home.
The gospel begins with Jesus saying that he will prepare a place for each one of us. But as the text continues, we can see that our place is not an isolated room of our own in a giant heavenly mansion. Jesus’ words are less about a place than a relationship: our relationship with Jesus and God the Father. They tell us that in Jesus we know all we need to know about God, and just as we can have a relationship with another human person, we can also have a relationship with God that will one day be as real and obvious as our relationships with one another. The hope of one day being with Christ fully and forever is as real as the works we are called to do in his name today.
While our faith is not only about our destiny when we die, we do have something to say about death. We don’t ignore this reality. This passage allows us the opportunity to contemplate what is ultimately unknowable, yet is also a central part of our faith: what heaven will be like.
One of the most influential thinkers for me on this subject is former Yale professor David Kelsey. He suggests that the experience of heaven will contain all of what we most value about this life, multiplied beyond our imagination. So what are some of the things you value most about life?
Some of my thoughts:
What would be on your list?
One of Kelsey’s other main points is that a hallmark of this life is growth and development. So there is no reason to believe this ends at physical death. So instead of sitting motionless on a puffy cloud, heaven will be active and dynamic.
Just as the “best stuff” continues, all the “bad stuff” is taken away. I am reminded of the vision of Revelation 21:
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’
As Sunday’s gospel progresses, Thomas questions Jesus about The Way to where he is going. To comfort Thomas and the rest of the disciples, Jesus promises that he himself is the Way. Unfortunately, Jesus’ claim to be “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) has sometimes been misapplied to condemn people who are not Christian. It would seem to me that if all of the “bad stuff” is taken away, that would include the condemnation of others. Perhaps imagining what heaven is like will help us recognize the Way as the good news that God loves the whole world and encourage us to celebrate the wideness of God’s mercy.