A Benediction meditation from the Bishop of Ebbsfleet
‘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?’ St John 14: 1—2
These words of Jesus have sometimes been used to suggest that in heaven we all have reserved suites; that the Father’s house has ample rooms for everybody. Sometimes that is how we think of our destiny as individuals, as churches, even as world communions.
But it won’t do to think of our Christian destiny, our Christian future, as one in which we simply live in separate homes. What Christ wills for his people is that they be where he is, and because they are in living relationship with him, they are also in living relationship with one another. Shaped by one another; sometimes conditioned, limited, even hurt by one another; yet also challenging and renewing one another.
Many places to stay
The word that has been translated ‘dwelling places’ can also mean ‘lodgings’, ‘overnight rests’. Perhaps we can gain a better sense of Jesus’s words if we think of an unfamiliar translation that says: ‘In my Father’s house there are many places to stay, many stages along the Way.’ That casts a very different light on the whole of our Christian life, our journey together as individuals, as parishes, and as churches. It helps us to think better about the Father’s house, the great space of God’s love, into which Jesus Christ leads us because it is his home. It is a place so vast that we are always journeying into it. Christ prepares the way, and returns to guide us deeper into God. As we move forward into the mystery of God he challenges us again and again to do so in communion, in fellowship with others on the same journey, in the same Way.
No way but forward
‘In my Father’s house there are many lodging places, many overnight rests’, because in my Father’s house there is always more to discover, more of the depth of our Father’s reality. It is perhaps in that sense that St Teresa of Avila takes up the gospel image of ‘dwelling places’ to describe the journey of each individual person. We move, she says, through the Interior Castle of the soul, toward God who is at the very centre of everything. We move from level to level, from room to room, seeking the One who is at the centre, knowing that he draws us forward for all time. As he draws us forward by his grace, we recognize that, as Teresa says, if we stop we fall back: there is no way but forward; there is no way without growth.
Today we are bound to be thinking and praying about what the future holds for our unity and growth as Anglicans who hold fast the traditional faith and order of the Church catholic, and we are bound to wonder what that hope will bring. St John gives us our answer, the only answer that there has ever been. Our journey must be to the place where Christ is, ‘next to the Father’s heart’, Christ’s home and ours. It is a journey on which we are bound to be drawn more and more to one another.
Dawn of expectation
It is a story of stopping and starting, of night falling without a clear programme for the next day; of a dawn of expectation and hope whose details we cannot yet discern. Sometimes the light is so bright—or the darkness so dark—that we can’t see the path. Sometimes, as Newman put it, the situation is one in which ‘one step’ must be enough for us.
Our assurance is that Christ walks before us and walks with us. He is the Way, he has cleared the path to the Father’s heart. No other can do it; no other has done it, the way is clear because he, Jesus, has made it clear: a holy way upon which God’s people journey back, rejoicing, to their home. At every stage he understands the frustrations, the sufferings, the doubts, that assail us as individuals and as communities. He understands because is fully human how hard the road can be to that one place where as human beings we all belong: that one place ‘next to the Father’s heart’. His promise is to be there so that we experience his love and his compassion, and his continuing challenge to grow, for to stop growing is to move backwards.
Christ with us
So at night we rest sometimes on our way; and each morning Christ wakes us and says, ‘It is another day, another journey into the mystery of the Father’. We all know this in our daily lives as disciples: the times when we feel we understand very little, when we’ve hit a brick wall; the times when Christ, as you might imagine, takes us gently by the shoulders and says, ‘Step forward because I am with you’.
Trust in God
Trust in God because it is God’s eternal will that there be a place next to his heart for all of us. That is the place prepared before the world began. Trust God for it.
Trust Jesus Christ who has opened up the way to that place of joy and offering and eternal intimacy; whose sacred heart is with us every step of the way – in sorrow and in joy, in doubt and in clarity.
Trust also Christ’s broken body: that strange assortment of sinful, confused human beings who stumble across the light of Christ, and are drawn by him into the place he calls home. Put your trust in one another as we walk together in faith, because God’s promise cannot be undone. ND