This is an excerpt from a recent funeral meditation, modified for posting here. Several people expressed appreciation for the words so I thought it would be worth publishing them more widely.
Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). These words have comforted Christians through the centuries in all kinds of difficult circumstances, but especially when faced with the dark valley of death.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” Jesus says. In the older English of the King James, it says, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.” What a curious expression! “Mansions” is not the best translation of the word there (monē), but, to be fair, the phrasing is a bit unusual. You walk into God’s “house,” and inside it is filled with separate dwellings, separate “abodes.” It’s as if God’s house is far, far bigger on the inside than you could imagine from the outside.
I have an image in my mind from the very last chapter of the very last book in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. The heroes have passed through the dreaded dark door of the stable and met all those from Narnia who have gone on before. Then they begin to look around them, and they realize they’re in a world come alive in colour and texture—it’s just like the world they left, only brighter, and purer—and seemingly unending. “Further up and further in!” they cry, and they bound through worlds upon worlds—all inside a tiny stable, or so it seemed. Younger ones might also think of the magical tents in Harry Potter, or perhaps others will envision the TARDIS in Dr. Who—whole rooms, even rooms upon rooms, inside a tiny cubicle of space.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” The language suggests that we’re speaking of mystery, we’re speaking in some kind of sacred metaphor, like all Scripture’s language of the life that extends from now into eternity.
Perhaps you could paraphrase it this way: “Where God is, there is room enough for whoever wants to be there.”
Or, you might say, “There is infinite space in God’s eternal love.”
It’s an expansive, wide-open invitation, a comforting call to people like us. For Jesus’ disciples were just like us: fearful of the future and facing the prospect of being left behind by one they loved.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in Jesus. There is infinite space in God’s eternal love. There is plenty of room with God. No one needs to be kept out who wants to be with God forever.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to describe how we get there: “You know the way to the place where I am going,” he says to his disciples, prompting Thomas to ask, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus replies with those well-known words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
“I am the way to the Father,” Jesus declares to Thomas, “the true way, the living way.”
There is infinite space in God’s eternal love. And Jesus is the true and living, life-giving doorway to this infinite, eternal love of God.
Jesus has already talked about being a “way in” in John’s Gospel. And I think it’s helpful to read what Jesus says here in light of what he’s already said earlier, in John 10:
Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit…Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
The image is one of safety and security. Jesus is the good shepherd who gathers up God’s people like sheep to himself, who protects God’s people from harm, from those who might do evil things, stealing and killing and destroying. As the good shepherd Jesus brings God’s people to a safe place, away from dangers that prowl around in the dark night. And as the gate, the true and living way to this place of security, Jesus keeps out all those who might want to bring harm and evil upon God’s people.
There is infinite space in God’s eternal love; where God is, there is room enough for whoever wants to be there. God’s sheepfold is immense, with room even for many “other sheep” from other sheepfolds, as Jesus says in John 10:16. As the gate, as the true and living way, Jesus welcomes all who are God’s sheep from whatever fold they may come, and Jesus keeps out all who only want to prey on God’s sheep, all who only want to steal and kill and destroy all that is truly good and beautiful and life-giving in the world.
Two thousand years later, we are still like Jesus’ first disciples: fearful of the future, walking under death’s dark shadow. We are still like sheep desperate for a shepherd, easy prey for the harms and evils of this world. And Jesus’ words of comfort remain the same as they have always been.
There is infinite space in God’s eternal love. There is plenty of room with God. No one needs to be kept out who wants to be with God forever.
And Jesus is the true and living, life-giving doorway to this infinite, eternal love of God. Jesus can bring you safely into God’s presence, even through suffering and sorrow, and he will keep you there, secure in God’s love.
So do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God. Trust in Jesus.