This text from John's gospel that we read and hear today is also commended to be read as part of our burial rite. It is commended to us because it is a statement of Jesus promise to us in the light of one of our worst fears.
This fear is the fear of separation. When we are separated from familiar surrounding or from cherished relationships, we suffer. We know this from the images on television and in news publications of the refugees from Kosovo. Sometimes a reporter will be able to ask one of those fleeing for their lives, "What does this feel like?" The answers are all painful. We are held by the image because it is a powerful, compassion-producing picture of separation. We are at the same time repelled by the image of our own worst fears.
The problem with these fears is that they are real and justified. Sooner or later they will be realized. We all have either lost a parent or parents to death, or we will, given a natural course of events. Some of us have lost children to death. This is not the normal sequence of life. Because it isn't, it is even more painful. The picture of the parents who had children killed in the recent tragedy in Littleton are so painful that we can barely
stand to see them.
These fears are real.
We are all going to die. We pray and hope that our deaths will be peaceful after a long and happy life. We hope and pray that we will be with those who love us and that we will never be alone as we die.
But, however it comes, we will die. We will have our fear of separation fulfilled in the most complete way possible.
In this text, Jesus has let his disciples in on part of the mystery of his own journey. He has told them that he is leaving them. They do not like this. This troubles them.
Jesus addressed their fear by saying, "Do not let your heart be troubledâ¦ I go to prepare a place for youâ¦I shall return and take you with me, so that where I am, you may be too. You know the way to the place where I am going."
The disciple known as Thomas doubted this, and said, "Lord, we do not know the wayâ¦"
Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Lifeâ¦"
One of the ways to understand the Christian life and journey is in that statement. Some scholars call this the "scandal of Christian particularity" the notion that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life is somehow offensive in that it sounds so exclusive. It doesn't seem fair. We are always uncomfortable with this claim of Jesus.
Nevertheless, there it is. One very wise old Christian was asked," Do you really believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation and heaven?" She answered, "Well, it is certainly the only way that I know, and I am so grateful."
And those who know this are grateful. Another wise old Christian said as he went through a long illness with his wife that ended in her death, said this while standing at the foot of her grave, "If I didn't know about Jesus and have the hope of the Resurrection, I don't think I could stand this loss."
Death ends the lives of Christians. Death hurts Christians who lose those whom they love.
But for those of us who claim Jesus as Savior and Lord, our deaths are opportunities for the love and power of God to break into the natural order in a new and restorative way. God, through Jesus, has promised that as we die with him, we will be raised from the dead in the same way that Jesus was raised from the dead.
We don't know what heaven is like; none of us has been there. Jesus' image of many mansions does address the pain of separation from places that we love. Most of us have deep hopes for the restorations of relationships with those people we love.
Whatever heaven is like, it is the answer to some of our worst fears. It is a place prepared for us. The preparation is done with absolute love. The question for us is what are we doing to prepare for that place that is prepared for us?