“A Place for Jim” (John 14:1-6)

Funeral Service
The Ascension of Our Lord
Thursday, May 17, 2012

“A Place for Jim” (John 14:1-6)

When someone we love leaves us, it can be very painful for us. Our heart aches. That person we know and love is no longer with us, and we miss him. That’s what we’re experiencing now with our brother Jim. We miss him now, and we will continue to miss him. Husband, father, friend, fellow church member–Jim Stewart was someone we got to know, and we liked him, and now he won’t be around anymore to share our company. That hurts, and understandably so. Even when we had months to get ready for this week–we knew Jim’s cancer was terminal–even so, it doesn’t take away the loss we feel at this time.

Death stinks. Death and disease, the dying process, the whole miserable lot we experience in this life–and lurking around in the back of our mind is that what happened to Jim will happen to us, too, in one form or another. Life here is only temporary. There will be other mourners in the future, except they’ll be attending our funeral. It’s on days like this that the reality of this whole sorry mess jumps out at us. And it is disturbing.

But maybe that’s why it is a comforting coincidence, in a way, that Jim’s funeral should occur on this particular day. “What, May 17,” you say, “what’s so special about that?” Well, nothing, really. But today happens to be forty days after Easter, which means that it’s Ascension Day. And the reality of Christ’s resurrection and his ascension into heaven and what will happen when he comes back to take us home–it is all this that gives us comfort in the face of death, Jim’s and our own. For on this Ascension Day, we’re reminded of why our Lord Jesus Christ died and rose and ascended and is coming again, and that is, as Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you.” This is the promise that will sustain us through all the difficulties and loss we experience in life. And so it is when we consider the sadness we feel right now. We take comfort in knowing that Jesus was going to prepare “A Place for Jim.”

“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus tells his disciples. “Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

“I am going to prepare a place for Jim. I am going to prepare a place for you.” This is what Jesus is saying to us today, and it gives us great comfort in the face of loss.

Jesus’ disciples were feeling a sense of loss. Their hearts were troubled. Jesus had just told them that he was about to leave them, that he was going away. This was deeply troubling. Their beloved master, with whom they had traveled for the past several years–he tells them that he is leaving them. Jesus, from whom they had learned so much–about God, about themselves, about him–Jesus says he’s about to go away, and they can’t come with him. No wonder their hearts were troubled.

But Jesus reassures them, in the midst of their sorrow–just as he reassures us now. “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” Jesus calls us to faith, to trust in God’s goodness and to trust in the one whom God has sent, namely, Jesus the Christ.

But what are we to believe about Christ and about his going away, that this should give us any comfort? What does this have to do with our losing Jim and missing him and the prospect of even more deaths to come, including our own? What does this have to do with us? Answer: Everything!

“I go to prepare a place for you,” Christ says. Without that, there is no hope for us, for you or me or for our brother Jim. With this promise, though, there is everything to hope for. We have every confidence in the world to face death, precisely because Jesus did “go away” as he said he would.

Follow me on this. Jesus is saying these words just hours before he will be betrayed and arrested and dragged off to an unjust trial in the middle of the night. Jesus was being taken from his disciples before their very eyes, and it shook them to the core. Then the next day their master would be condemned to death, nailed to a cross, suffer and die and be buried. It looked like all was lost. The disciples could not have felt any lower. Jesus had indeed gone away, he had been taken from them, and it hurt like a knife in their soul. All their hopes were crushed.

But in truth this was all part of God’s plan, it was all part of Jesus going away to prepare a place for us–to prepare a place for Jim and you and me. There was no other way for this to happen. We needed Jesus to go this way, the way of the cross, if we were to have any place in God’s kingdom. It’s the only way. As Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Why is this? Because it is only through Jesus going the way of the cross that our sins are forgiven, and only thus are we able to enter into God’s holy presence. We need Christ’s cleansing, which he accomplished by shedding his holy blood for us on that cross, as our substitute, taking the punishment we deserve because of our sins. It’s the only way. You and I are not good enough to overcome our sins against God, and neither was Jim. We need the Son of God to do this for us, which he has done.

And now is Christ arisen. Death could not hold him. Christ rose bodily from the grave on Easter Day, in victory over death. And over the next forty days he met a number of times with his disciples, telling them about the kingdom of God, before he ascended into heaven on this day, Ascension Day. He goes, as he says, to prepare a place for us.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” This is our hope, isn’t it, our sure hope, as certain as Christ’s own word. Jim trusted in this promise. It is the faith by which he lived and in which he died, namely, that Christ will come again and take us to himself, that we will be with him forever. It is the promise of the bodily resurrection from the dead at Christ’s return. It is the promise of everlasting life in God’s presence.

This is the place that Jesus has prepared for us. We get a glimpse of it in the Book of Revelation. A new heaven and a new earth. The holy city, the new Jerusalem. What a place this will be! The big thing about it is that God will be there, and we will be with God. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” Perfect communion with our Creator, so much better than now, when we are still plagued by our sins. But then, on that day and for all the days thereafter, our relationship with God will be made fully right.

And this place that Jesus is preparing for us–it will be so wonderful, in another way of looking at it, because of what will not be there. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” No more tears, like the tears of separation we shed when we lose a loved one. None of that. No more death, that ugly intruder that always is hanging around now and snatching people away from us. No more pain, no more suffering from the ravages of a disease like cancer.

Friends, this is the place, the wonderful place, that Jesus went away to prepare for us, by way of his death, resurrection, and ascension. We will experience this place in full when Christ our Savior returns.

Having left this vale of tears, Jim Stewart now is in the presence of the Lord. Jim’s suffering is over. He rests from his labors. His soul is with the Lord. He and we still await the resurrection of the body and the restoration of all creation, which is the church’s great hope, and which will come to pass on the day when Christ returns. But for now, Jim is at peace. His place in God’s presence is secure. Take comfort in that. Rejoice that Jim has made it, that the Holy Spirit kept him in the faith, even through the ordeal of cancer, by means of the church’s ministry of Word and Sacrament. And take hold of that same hope for yourself. Do like Jim did, and heed the Spirit calling you to stay close to Christ. Christ Jesus is the only source of comfort and strength that will carry you through all the travails of this life and on into the life to come. The only way. He is the way.

“Let not your hearts be troubled.” Jim has gone away, but you will see him again. And that’s because Christ has gone away, via the cross and the empty tomb and his ascension into heaven, but with the assurance that he will come again to take us home to himself. “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus is telling us today. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” And therefore: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

Published in: on May 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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