Video of Matins is here. The sermon begins around the 38:50 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Place is important. It may not seem as important as it once did, in another time, another generation, or maybe somewhere else in the world, when people were born in a place, lived in a place, got married and had children and died in a place—and then another generation rose up to take their place. They were rooted, grounded, connected to a place.
But now children move away, people don’t usually live with extended family or with multiple generations. We are more separated, more rootless, more disconnected. But even for the people who move around a lot—even the people who want to move around a lot—I suspect there’s at least a few moments when they want to put down roots and keep their feet on the ground in one place or another.
When I was at the seminary, we lived in an apartment near campus for my first two years. Then we moved to Little Rock, Arkansas for my vicarage. We moved back to St. Louis after that year, and we lived one place. Then we had to move to another apartment. Then they wanted to tear down those apartments in order to build new condos, so we had to move again. We lived in a house until I was finished, and then we moved to Minnesota. Six places in three-plus years. Five moves. By the end of that, I wanted to burn the moving boxes, and stay put without even thinking about the next time we might move. It was strange to live in one place for more than two years at a time.
Place is important, even if we view it differently than our grandparents or great-grandparents did. Jesus had uprooted, disconnected, and separated His disciples from their normal places and patterns. It is to them that He says, “I am going to prepare a place for you.” Do not let your hearts be troubled, disturbed, stirred up—believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms—dwelling places, places to live. And I’m going to prepare a place for you.
Where is Jesus going to prepare that place? He had just told Peter that where He was going, Peter couldn’t follow at that time. He is, as He says multiple times, returning to the Father from whom He had come, who had sent Him into the world. But the way back to the Father is along the way that the Father has sent Him, and that way goes through very particular places. Places like the place called the Skull, Golgotha. And in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden was a new tomb.
The cross and the grave are the places where Jesus goes to prepare a place for us, because no matter where you are, no matter how long you’ve lived there, no matter how often you move, how connected you are to your place, this place has the stench of death. There’s still a lot of good. In spite of everything we’ve done and left undone, God still pours out His abundant blessing. Though this world is in rebellion against its Creator, God still lets the rain fall and the sun shine on both the wicked and the good alike. In spite of our own sin, God still blesses us beyond anything we deserve or ask for. There is good everywhere from the hand of our heavenly Father.
But underneath it all, in this place there is the reek of death. It’s in the walls, it’s in the ceiling, it’s in the foundation, and there’s no way to fully cover it up or get rid of it. So Jesus goes to the place of death in order to make room for life. He opens the grave, and instead of death, there is the scent of life. Jesus is not telling us that He’s going up to heaven, into some kind of mansion, and putting a nice quilt on the bed, and some nice pictures on the walls in order to prepare it for you (not that there’s anything wrong with quilts or pictures). He is doing this work here and now, right in the midst of all the death that surrounds us. In the midst of death, we are in life.
He makes room for us in death so that we can live. This word that’s translated “rooms” is only used twice in the Gospel of John—in fact, these are the only two times the word is used in the whole New Testament—and they’re both here in chapter 14. In verse 23, Jesus says, If anyone loves Me and keeps My word, My Father will love him and we—the Father and the Son in flesh—will come to him and make our room, dwelling-place, with him. The Father of the house where the Son is preparing room for you is the same Father, with the same Son, who are coming to dwell with you in that room. The Father’s house only had one Son, but that Son entered this world to gather many children, born of water and the Spirit, for the Father’s house. He has made room for you.
And the place He has prepared is the place that we see in the Revelation. There, the woman who is a picture of the Church is taken into the wilderness, away from the dragon, to a “place prepared for her by God,” so that she can be nourished there for 1,260 day—a time, times, and half a time—the whole time from Jesus’ preparation until the dragon is gone. We’ve heard of “shelter-in-place” orders. Washington doesn’t have one right now, but they’re not just for diseases or viruses. They’re for if there’s some kind of disaster, or some kind of attack. Then the authorities might order everyone to “shelter in place” for their safety. Of course, we know that in this world, there’s no place that can offer complete safety, no matter what. Death, disaster, disease can always get in.
But there is a place, carved out for you in the Body of Christ. And there is room for everyone. Paul says that we are the temple of the living God, a temple built with living stones, laid on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself the chief cornerstone, without whom the whole building will fall and decay. And then Paul quotes Leviticus: God says, I will make My dwelling with you, and I will walk among you, and I will be your God, and you will be My people. Take shelter here, in the place that Jesus has prepared in the middle of all the death and disease and disaster of this world.
This is not a place that floats in the air, more disconnected, more separated, uprooted from reality. This is the place that is in every place where people keep the word of Jesus and hear it and believe it. Wherever people keep the word and love the one who loved them, the Father and the Son and the Spirit who has been poured out dwell. The Body of Christ is the Temple of the Living God, and He has made room and brought you in, made you part of it. Here is your shelter, here He nourishes you, here He protects and keeps you now and always.
Do not let your hearts be troubled! Believe God, and believe Jesus. In His Father’s house is room for you, and it is not subject to the decay, the death, the disaster of this creation. It is kept for you in heaven, with the Father and the Son, and you will see it descend from heaven, the place that He has prepared, as a Bride for her Husband. And you will see this whole creation renewed and restored, all of it the dwelling place of God with His people forever. There, in Christ, is your place, rooted, connected, grounded, everything you’ve longed for but cannot find in this creation, there fulfilled. Do not let your hearts be troubled, now or in the days to come. He will be your place, life in the midst of death.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/8/20