The lover’s house: John 14.1-7; Song of Solomon 2.9-13

Homily for the funeral of June Norton McKinlay, 1922-2004.

Jesus said: “Don’t 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?”

Jesus said this to comfort and encourage his disciples. Because it wasn’t long before he was to be killed and, so it seemed, leave them forever.

Jesus was responding to one of our strongest fears—the fear of separation. When we’re separated from familiar surroundings, or from cherished relationships, we suffer and we are afraid of our own feelings. This fear, this suffering, is real—not something to be ashamed of. We’re all going to die.

We pray and hope that our deaths will be peaceful after a long and happy life. We hope that we will be with those who love us and that we will not be alone as we die. But, however it comes, we will die. Any fear of separation will be fulfilled in the most complete way possible.

In this story, Jesus lets his disciples see part of his own life and death journey. He tells them that he is leaving. They don’t like it. They are troubled. But he says, “Don’t be troubled … You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas is not sure, “Lord, we don’t know the way …”, So Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life …”.

The idea that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life is somehow offensive to us. It sounds so exclusive. It doesn’t seem fair and makes us uncomfortable. But I don’t think it’s like that. Rather, Jesus is helping. He is saying, “I’m the way, I’ll help you, I’ll be for you the way to the house with many dwelling places.”

We don’t know what heaven is like—none of us has been there. But whatever heaven is like, it is a place specially prepared for us and Jesus helps us to understand. He challenges us to have faith and helps us not to be afraid by telling us about a big family house.

A father’s house seems more personal than ‘heaven.’ If you’re in your father’s house, you can be at home. The idea of ‘dwelling place’ refers a place where people live together—not just a house, but a home.
The welcome is prepared with love and care.
The son of the host has specially prepared everything.
It’s a comfortable, hospitable, house:
—a house that welcomes the traveler after a long day’s uphill journey,
—a house that’s warm in winter and cool in summer,
—a place with good food and drink, good company and a wonderful host,
—a house of welcome for all kinds and classes of people, in justice and peace.

One of Mum’s most cherished old songs says

I come to the garden alone
while the dew is still on the roses
and the voice I hear
falling on my ear the Son of God discloses
And he walks with me
and he talks with me
and he tells me I am his own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there
none other has ever known.

That’s how June made her journey, and overcame her fears—by allowing Jesus to be close, knowing that he is close to her and, dare I say, a lover. I wonder whether she heard the voice of the heavenly lover calling her to his house, to be with him.

Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For, lo, the winter is past, (it’s spring time)
the rain is over and gone;
the flowers appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.