Many dwelling places

A sermon for the fifth Sunday of Easter and the fiftieth anniversary of a marriage

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”

We read this Gospel at funerals, and we find comfort in the idea that God has room for us beyond the realm that we can see, but what if that is not all that Jesus was talking about?

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” and again, because we have been thinking about mansions beyond the sky, we are again looking for our stairway to heaven. But Jesus was pretty grounded, if we read the Gospels; so again, what if we are missing something?

None of this takes away from the knowledge that God has our loved ones in hand whether they are living or have died, nor does it take away the promise that one day we will see God face to face for ourselves. But what if we didn’t have to wait?

When Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” he is inviting his disciples to see through his relationship to God the kind of relationship they could have. That does not mean that no one else has a relationship with God: Everyone is made in God’s image, and God cannot help but love us; I am not afraid for those who do not know God through Jesus. 

But Jesus is offering something here beyond price, beyond imagination: to know God as intimately as Jesus knows God. To know God as Jesus relates to God as his Father. To see God as Jesus sees God, the true image, unfiltered and unfaded. To dwell in the presence of God as God dwells in Jesus.

And still, the disciples struggle to see it, and so do we. So we wait, for mansions beyond the sky, and the face to face meeting with our Maker.

But Jesus has said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” and God’s realm is not restricted to heaven. God’s reign is not delayed by our disobedience. God’s reach is not foreshortened by our short-sightedness. God’s home is among mortals, says the Revelation (Revelation 21:3).

So what some if the many dwelling places that God offers us are to be found here, and now? What if some of them are not even places? Could, for example, a marriage be a dwelling place?

This morning, as well as the Resurrection of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, we are celebrating the fiftieth wedding anniversary of Bill and Nancy. Fifty years is a dwelling. Talk to them at coffee hour and you’ll hear all about the places they have dwelt, and the homes they have built for family and for strangers alike: cathedrals of faith, houses of art, communities of connection. Their home that has opened its doors to people from afar. The dwelling place where they gather still with generations of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, drawing them near. Yes, a marriage can be a dwelling place.

Yesterday saw another auspicious occasion for celebration: it was Bill’s birthday. I love when wedding anniversaries coincide or are close to birthdays, because both celebrations mark the passage from one dwelling place to another. 

And yes, here was another celebration going on yesterday, which I didn’t get up to watch, but I read afterwards some lines from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon. He noted that the vocation of a monarch – and I would add, any vocation worth having: the vocation to marriage or parenthood, to a career or an avocation to service and creativity, to ministry in the church and in the world, to being a good and solid friend – any vocation that is rooted in love is rooted in God, who loved the world so much as to become incarnate, to dwell among us, to show us the way of love. Jesus, who was never married, nor crowned a king except with thorns, but who knew how to love: he is the way, the truth, the life of God laid out for us.

There is more; there are many rooms, Jesus says, in God’s house: room for all of God’s children to roam and find their place. In God’s home and heart are many dwelling places, and sometimes we need more than one in a lifetime, if we are to grow and become the person God intended us to be.

A piece of music, or of other art, a poem, a prayer, a new name, an old memory. These can be places in which to dwell a while or longer, seeking and awaiting, expecting the face of God. 

The changing face of the water on the lake or the ocean or the sky: these can be places to dwell upon, to contemplate the mercy and the endless grace of God.

Beside still waters, in green pastures, even in the valley of shadows: wherever we dwell, God will find us, and dwell with us. Isn’t that what the life of Jesus meant, that God’s dwelling place is among mortals?

Isn’t that why he told his disciples, “You know the way”? Because he is the way, and the dwelling place, and in his life, we see God.

Even if nothing else holds, or when it does; when other shelters fall apart around us, and when we find ourselves in love; whenever we dwell upon Jesus, we will find ourselves at home in the heart of God.


About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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