Fifth Sunday of Easter John 14:1-14
This has to be one of the most well-known passages in the New Testament. It is a favourite for funerals and I am sure you have all heard me preach from this text. Although there are many helpful things that can be used from this to comfort the grieving at funerals there are many more things to look at in this passage.
First of all the setting: There are dark days ahead. The disciples are in the Upper Room. Judas has gone out to betray Jesus. Jesus has told Peter how he will deny him. A world of darkness, fear, sadness and chaos is soon to come upon them. They will lose hope and lock themselves in. Jesus did not promise them an easy time. Now he calls on them to trust in God the Father and in himself, to hang on in there by putting their faith in him and their hand in his. He tells them.
'In my Father's house are many dwelling places.' This can mean that there are resting places on our journey through life where we will find refreshment and comfort. These places help us to progress and develop as Christians as God's world is not static, nor is the kingdom of heaven.
'Many dwelling places' can simply mean there is room for all. The world may close its doors to us, society may lock us out, but God always has room for us. 'If it were not so, I would have told you.'
Jesus says, 'I go to prepare a place for you.' He goes on ahead ready for us to follow. He goes before us to make the way easier for us like a trailblazer who goes on ahead to make sure it is safe for us to go down that road. Jesus is like a pilot boat that goes before to guide vessels into the safe harbour: He is the one who leads us into the fullness of God's kingdom. He goes to prepare a place for us. He is saying that we have a reserved seat in heaven with our name on it; a place in heaven that is specifically for us. Jesus will come to us and take us to himself, so that we will be one with him in his kingdom. This is not wishful thinking, or a vague hope but for those who believe it is a present reality.
This idea of a Way into the kingdom is confusing to Thomas (and to many of us!). Thomas seeks clearer directions. Jesus tells Thomas he is the Way to God. He could have given complex directions on how to find God - like getting directions in a strange area. Someone says, 'Turn right, then left, then second right, last exit at the second roundabout and across the third.' By now you feel well and truly lost. Then someone else says, 'I am going that way. I will show you and go with you.' and you refrain from throwing your arms around their neck and giving them a kiss, or is that just me?
Often when we are feeling spiritually lost it is because we have wandered from the one who is the Way. More than any book of maps or a satnav for directions, we need to know God is with us on our journey.
Can you imagine what it's like, walking, stumbling, desperately looking for a place of safety – fleeing from flood, famine, from all manner of killing, persecution and ethnic cleansing, being in one of those long, spidery lines of refugees criss-crossing the world?
Can you imagine what it is like, to know that the door is shut behind you?
There is an enemy is snapping at your heels and there is no way back.
This is not a bad dream, but a waking nightmare with little prospect of a
new dawn. Can you imagine what it's like, to be utterly uprooted, no familiar fields or hills, no home, no belongings, no belonging – you are seeking asylum - you are a refugee.
We look at our TV screens and perhaps we shake our heads at the seeming indifference of God, we wonder at man's inhumanity to man, maybe we reach for our chequebook – or we switch over to a comedy programme instead.
But look again at those long, spidery lines of refuges criss-crossing the world and maybe we may see ourselves walking, stumbling, picking ourselves up, and desperately looking for safety, but not from wars or evil people just stumbling through our lives.
We should not be surprised or shocked - for we are all strangers and pilgrims, passing through this world. Now, more than ever, with the world such an uncertain place, we need to know there is a place of refuge which even now is being prepared for you and for me, and there is someone who will lift us when we stumble, walk with us, hold us, shelter us, and even carry us as we criss-cross this world on our journey to the next.
Can we dare to believe, dare to trust, for it is Jesus, the one who was a refugee in Egypt, who was homeless, and had nowhere to lay his head in this world, who makes these promises and guarantees us a new dawn and a home in eternity.
In his Christmas broadcast, 25 December 1939 King George VI quoted from (From Desert by Minnie Louise Haskins.
And I said to the man
who stood at the gate of the year:
Give me a light
that I may tread safely into the unknown.
And he replied:
Go out into the darkness
and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than a light
and safer than a known way.
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.