John 14: 1-14
Not too long after my father died suddenly in 1967 I had a ‘toll’ painted small plaque made for my mother with the words, “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled” John 14:1. It was her favorite Bible verse. The plaque I still remember but, as with many items from the past, has been gently laid aside, never to be seen again. It was a Robin’s egg blue color with the words in a beautiful and serene typeface with some daisy’s painted around the words.
I didn’t know back then that I would pray and read that passage often at the bedside of dying people and at memorial or funeral services as both chaplain and pastor. I didn’t know back then that it would become a significant passage of comfort to me, “Let not your hearts be troubled….in my father’s house there are many mansions.”
For mom is was a reminder of God’s love that calmed her from birth until her own death and that it would bring her closer to Daddy someday. It brought it solace for her broken heart. For me now it has become a sweet reminder of my parents and that God, too, has claimed me and has prepared a place for me too in the great beyond. And isn’t that our most burning desire? To know that there is a place for us, that this life that we live is not in vain? We wonder, what does God have planned for me when I finally take my last breaths on this earth?
In the grand scheme of the Gospel of John our scripture reading today falls just after Jesus washes his disciples feet and foretells his betrayal, so this is a pre Easter passage. The disciples have questions, they have fears, they have doubts about their own mortality and in this farewell discourse Jesus attempts to show them how to live once he is gone and to convince them that, in the words of Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” Let us hear those comforting words in the Gospel….
“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’? 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. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 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. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
The disciples hearts are very troubled. They have come to the realization that their time on earth with Jesus is limited now. Thomas asks, ‘Lord, we just don’t understand where you are going, how can we know this?’ And then Philip also questions Jesus, ‘Lord, just show us the [father] meaning, God. Just show us and then we can understand and be satisfied. Their hearts were truly unsettled and troubled. They know he is leaving but they don’t understand to where he is going.
Jesus tries to make it as pastorally compassionate and direct as possible for them. It’s pretty clear that the disciples and his other followers were to believe in him and to live in his ways, that is to live into each day as a gift and blessing from God and to live into the truth of who we are as God’s beloved and named children. He was preparing not only a home with many rooms, one for each but also showing them how to live after he dies because he knows that life and death, living and dying are intrinsically bound together.
Death has got to be the saddest reality of our living. It makes me sad to think of losing my parents so very long ago, it horrifies and saddens me to think that I could loose one of my children and it saddens me to think about my own mortality because I love life, I love my life and what I choose to do with it. So it is in sad and distressing times that the words of Jesus become powerful words of hope, “Let not your heart be troubled”.
These words also encourage me to live boldly today and be grateful for the gift that today really is and for the wonderful blessings that are before me. The only time that we have is right before us so it bids us to live, to cherish and dream, to be content and to be grateful in the moment, and to love deeply, dearly, and compassionately. To enjoy the people around us as other children of God.
I want to share some reflections of Henri Nouwen, Catholic priest and author,
“Hope and faith will both come to an end when we die. But love will remain. Love is eternal. Love comes from God and returns to God. When we die, we will lose everything that life gave us except love. The love with which we lived our lives is the life of God within us. It is the divine, indestructible core of our being. This love not only will remain but will also bear fruit from generation to generation.
When we approach our deaths let us say to those we leave behind, "Don't let your heart be troubled. The love of God that dwells in my heart will come to you and offer you consolation and comfort."
We often wonder how death will occur for us. Through illness, accident, war, or a natural disaster? Will our deaths happen suddenly or gradually? There are no answers for these questions, so we really should not spend time worrying about them. We don't know how our lives will end, and this is a blessed ignorance! But there is an important question that we should consider: When our time to die comes, will we die in such a way that those we leave behind are not devastated by grief or left with feelings of shame or guilt?
How we leave others depends largely on how we prepare ourselves for death. When we can die with grateful hearts, grateful to God and our families and friends, our deaths can become sources of life for others.
And so it is. Our living can be a source of life for others just by looking and living today as an abundant blessing of God’s love. Now don’t let you heart be troubled, there is way too much living to be had. Let us be grateful for our very lives and live them as a blessing to others.
Rev. Suzanne Wagner
Orange Congregational Church