‘None of us can ever forget how in that last Easter Sunday of his life, the Holy Father, marked by suffering, came once more to the window of the Apostolic Palace and one last time gave his blessing urbi et orbi. We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father’s house, that he sees us and blesses us.’
The impression given by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s address at the funeral of Pope John Paul II was that the Easter Sunday appearance and blessing was the last given by the Pope. In fact, on the following Wednesday, Easter Wednesday, my family and I were privileged to be in St Peter’s Square when for the very last time he looked down on the pilgrims before him and, albeit without words, gave us his blessing.
‘In my Father’s house are many rooms’, many a priest will read at the funeral of faithful and faithless alike, as though the Father’s house is both readily available to all, and is somewhere set in the future. Yet St John, from whose gospel these words are taken (ch.14), is rarely as straightforwardly understood as that. ‘Rooms’ is a word with rich meanings. First, it is used in contemporary secular Greek to describe the resting places along the traveller’s way, the wayside hostelries offering temporary respite and shelter.
Does St John chose this word for that, or is it because the root of the word comes from his oft-used verb, to abide? As the Son abides in the love of the Father, so we are encouraged to abide in the love of Christ (ch.15). This then is surely no pro tem arrangement; this is as permanent and eternal as is the relationship within the Godhead.
My Father’s house is a phrase we are used to from the synoptic gospels and it points us to the temple in Jerusalem. John’s Jesus has already (ch.4) said that there will be a time when worship will neither be offered on the mountain at Samaria nor in Jerusalem, but God will be worshipped in spirit and in truth. The implication is clear in John’s gospel, that it is in Christ that true worship will be offered, and that if the Father’s house is located anywhere it is in him.
Now and forever
In his body, Christ makes perfect the meeting place of God and Man, both with his Incarnation (the Word was made flesh John 1) and with his sacrificial death (And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself John 12). At the point of this glorification, his death on the Cross, from his side flows the birth of the Church, with the symbols of the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. It is, then, in the Church that we are to abide in the love of Christ, and to worship God in spirit and in truth.
In my Father’s house, then, is not exclusively to do with things deep into the future. But here and now every time we form ourselves as members of his Body, the Church, and offer the Eucharist we are in one of the rooms of protection and peace. Maybe the rooms are indeed as much staging posts on our way to heaven as heaven itself, or at least very real foretastes of abiding for ever in Christ’s love.