“After the Goodbyes”

May 7, 2023

The Scripture

John 14:1-14

14 “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.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if you do not, then believe because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

The Sermon

Our sermon passage this morning is one I am very familiar with…I have used this particular passage many, many times. But this time when I read it, I was a bit surprised, it almost seems out of place, out of sequence here in the gospel of John. We are still in Eastertide remembering the empty tomb, and just three chapters earlier, we have been hearing about life, abundant life, life that comes with knowing Christ. Why this passage today? It is a passage about goodbyes, a passage I have preached numerous times at funerals. It is probably one of my favorite funeral passages. And here now we dip deeply into this passage, knowing the Holy Spirit are providing words we need to hear right today, right where we are right now.

I am wondering what you are feeling right now after hearing these reassuring words from Jesus. Do they speak to you? Almost every time I have read this passage, the idea of Jesus preparing a room for me that is just for me is comforting. His words of coming back for me when that time comes and taking me to be with him gives me peace, the assurance that eventually everything will work out. What would this room prepared for you look like? What would be in it? Books, yes for me, flowers? Big windows with sunlight beaming through? A workshop with thousands of tools? A putting green? A piano? A music stand? Maybe all your loved ones that have gone before would be there standing around ready to greet you. This whole idea of being surrounded by the things you love and at the same time being connected to Christ in this intimate way, is a comfort, isn’t it? I have hoped and keep hoping that when I have read this passage at a funeral it brings comfort to those mourning, those facing the loss of a loved one. Yes, we hold to the truth of the resurrection story that we will be reunited with those who have gone before, that we will have life after we die!

But wait a minute, this is not a funeral situation, it is a future anticipation…Jesus is speaking these words to the disciples while he is standing right before him. He is talking about going away and coming back to get them sometime way into the future. I imagine they had no idea what he was talking about. How could they even contemplate that Jesus was going to be put to death? I don’t even think they realize that Jesus is really saying “goodbye” to them, goodbye but I will see you again sometime. We could stop here this is the resurrection story, first comes the goodbye and then comes the reunion! But Jesus has so much more to say to the disciples. Jesus knows this reunion, this reality of a room prepared just for them is in the future, their future. But there is also a whole lot of time that will go by before the great heavenly gathering, before going to this room prepared for them. It’s the time after the goodbyes that Jesus goes into more details about. Jesus moves right into talking about how to live in this time, you know what I mean the time when the disciples will witness his death, see his reappearances, and then also see him ascend into heaven never to see his physical form again. It’s the “what’s next with Jesus gone, time.”

So now I’ve come to realize that I have been preaching this passage at funerals to families thinking that it was what grieving people needed to hear and I think in part this is still true but I think grieving people like this passage not for themselves and their grieving but rather for the assurance it gives them about their loved one who has died. They know they’ll be okay. When reading a commentary by Lindsey S. Jodrey, an added perspective came to mind. She said this, “Funerals are not really for the dying. They’re for the living to do the work of grieving so they can gather the resources to go on living.

The disciples needed to know how to live after the goodbyes! Jesus keeps them in the present moment. He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Another commentary articulates clearly what I have always believed. “Unfortunately, this verse has often been used as a trump card, or worse, as a threat, to tell people that they better get with the program and ‘accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior’ in order to be saved. To interpret the verse this way is to rip it form its context and do violence to the spirit of Jesus’ words. This statement by Jesus is a promise, a word of comfort to his disciples. Jesus himself is all they need; there is no need to panic, no need to search desperately for a secret map.”

So, how do they live after the goodbyes…trust that Christ is present to them and grieve as you must surely grieve and then move on to do the work they were called to do. “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

You and me, we have started saying our goodbyes…haven’t we. In a way it’s starting to feel like a funeral. We’re remembering the people who have sat in these pews who are no longer here, we have been telling stories about past events, the laughter, the tears, the successes, the losses, there is so much to share. We must grieve…and grief will come and go in unique ways for each of us. We grieve alone and we also grieve together as a community. I like when Jodrey said funerals are for the living to do the work of grieving so they can gather the resources to go on living. Let us now together do the work of grieving and not forget the resources we have with each other, relationships that are strong, relationships that have endured many years, relationships that can be our resources now and into tomorrow so we can find a way to go on living. Amen