A Place Prepared: Reflections on John 14:1-14

Note: Edgy Exegesis is glad to offer this week the reflections of a guest columnist, the Rev. Dr. Gayle Landis.

Lectionary Reflections
John 14:1-14
May 18, 2014

"Do not let your hearts be troubled," seems like a pretty tall order. The disciples do not seem too sure they can do that, given the circumstances. Judas just left in the dark, betrayal on his mind. And Phillip wants Jesus to call God down so he can have proof. Are troubled hearts something we allow to happen? Or are they thrust upon us?

Jesus attempts to still their troubled hearts by telling them he is leaving and he will make a place for them where he is going. On the one hand, it must have comforted them to be included. On the other, I am sure this kind of leaving must have troubled them even more.

When our children were very young, my husband and I moved away from our extended families for the first time. We were suddenly far enough away not to see them every week, and also far enough that a visit required an overnight stay. Visits with three young ones were infrequent and happily anticipated. I worried, though, about bringing three kids into my mother-in-law's house for a few days, instead of a few hours. It was a lot to ask. Usually we left home after work on Friday and arrived very late, long after Grandma and Grandpa's normal bedtime.

I was troubled for nothing. On that first visit and every one that followed our place was prepared. One of my favorite memories of those days was coming into the house as Dave's mom was spreading the blankets out on guest beds and the couch. The time of night did not seem to matter, nor the fact that we were far from home. It was about her love for us, not about distance or trouble.

I think this is part of what Jesus means when he tells them that the only way to the Father is through him. The way home is not about going to a place, it is about the relationships that make the place home. Jesus is going to prepare their place, wherever that may be and whenever they will need it, because he already loves them. All through the Book of John, the writer is trying to share the importance of knowing Jesus. He stresses the kinds of signs that point to who Jesus is and not to the miracle itself. Jesus' long speeches and "I am" statements point to the ways the disciples can relate to Jesus. He speaks of the connections they share and the difference this will make in their lives.

Not allowing a troubled heart need not be seen as a promise of a worry- and fear-free life. If we read verse one that way, it seems to promise too much. But it does say something about the kinds of things that Jesus thinks might trouble them. He wants them to know that the only thing that should trouble their hearts is separation from him. His words about preparing a place should take care of that. Jesus promises that they too will have the ability to share this relationship with others. Part of their job as disciples will be to stay in relationship so they can be the place preparers for future disciples.

John's use of the word "household or family" rather than "house or building" gives the sense of community and relationship. In the Father's household or family there are many ways of being or dwelling. We translate the nominal form of the verb meno, to abide, "dwelling places." Abiding with Jesus weaves its way throughout John as a formative idea.

Jesus tells the disciples and us something important about "where" he is going. "To the Father" is perhaps a relationship, not a place. These many dwelling places reveal to us not changes in geography, but changes of heart. It is an ongoing thing, because it has already been done for us in some sense, and remains a future hope as well. Understandably, the disciples are uncertain about how to get where he is going. Jesus assures them that he himself is the way, hodos. In Greek, as in English, the word can mean path or road or can be used to mean way of life or practice. In this sense of passage, our journey with Jesus, spiritual and otherwise, is affirmed. Life with him is not a destination or an accomplishment—or a victory won—as much as it is a way of being and becoming.

A transformation happens. A change of heart from troubled to peace-filled embraces those disciples as they learn along their way that Jesus has come with them, and goes ahead to prepare a place. A destination like this changes everything. Companionship like this changes everything.

As a very young child I went every year with my family to Camp Wesley Methodist Church Camp in Ohio. On one weekend, we would reserve the whole camp for our church. Some folks would stay in cabins, but most of the families had tents or pop-up campers. I remember these trips fondly. We swam in the lake, sang, and ate together. In the evenings there would be a big bonfire with marshmallows for toasting. A couple of the fathers would go ahead of time to stack up the wood and find some marshmallow toasting sticks. They would get the fire going, then the rest of us would come. It was usually dark by the time we went to the bonfire, a trek down a steep hill and up another through the woods. Of course, the teenage boys in the back of the group did not help. They made scary noises and jumped out from behind trees. I remember terror. My best friend and I held hands and hoped for the best. One time we got lost and took so long that dad had to come find us. We had turned the wrong way and were going toward the lake and away from the bonfire hill. When we got close enough we could hear the others singing and see the fire. We made it. After that year, we knew the way. We never got lost again. Now looking back, those nighttime walks through the woods, listening for the hymns and looking for the firelight, are some of my favorite memories. The fear and uncertainty was gone, but we still held hands.

Home becomes a moveable feast. Even on those nights when we cannot fully trust ourselves or one another, there is a place prepared. And that makes all the difference in the dark.