Toorak Uniting Church

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In the heart of God

Psalm 139   Romans 8: 38, 39   John 14: 1 – 7
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
10:15 am, 20 November 2005

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Lord and my redeemer.

Grief.

One of my professors once likened grief to a maze, an utterly confusing place or state of mind where you feel lost, lonely, not quite sure where you are going, but feeling as if you are going round in circles, retracing the same steps, turning the same corners and walking into very similar dead ends all the time. You know you’ll get out eventually, you know others have, but at times it may feel you never will, with confidence and trust giving way to despair.

I have heard others describe grief as an unsociable black cat. Hovering in the background all the time, softly mewing, moving like a shadow, at times barely visible, but there. And at other times suddenly jumping into your lap, for no apparent reason at all to dig its nails into your arm and draw blood if you don’t give it the required attention. And if you get suddenly or accidentally too close screeching and scratching if you get suddenly or accidentally too close.

Grief hurts and is something that is hard to deal with. And all of us have to deal with it at some time in our lives.

It is grief Jesus addresses in John 14. Grief that is still in the future but looming on the horizon and moving closer, grief his friends will have to deal with shortly. Jesus knows his death has become inevitable and he has started to provide them with something that he believes might help them once the time has come.

What he offers them are images of comfort and hope. Images for them to hang on to when he has gone, images that will help them to get through their feelings of loss and bereavement and find the exit to that maze they’ll find themselves in for more easily.

Jesus uses many images in the gospel of John. To describe himself he uses the image of a door, of a light, of bread, of a vine, of a good shepherd, and as ‘the way’.

His death he describes as a journey, a transition, an opening up of possibilities and opportunities rather than an end, a lifting up to heaven rather than a deep well of darkness and despair, a time of preparation for better and greater things that are still to come…..

Do not your hearts be troubled he says.
Or, in other words: "Do not worry, have trust."

Words that will sound familiar to anyone who has ever comforted or been comforted: "It’s alright, it will all be alright, don’t worry….." Words that will often be said when we don’t know what else to say and can barely see or believe that things will really be alright. Words that can work like a mantra, an incantation trying to keep us from the edge of deep and unfathomable darkness. Words that will draw us back to hope, to future, to life that is worth living.

Those words the disciples remembered after Jesus died, those the words that hit them again after they realised that death was not to have the last word where Jesus was concerned. Words that gained significance and power in the early Church when they put their own lives on the line and faced persecution and hardship: "Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe in me also." Everything will be alright……there is nothing to worry about.

But Jesus says more: he goes on to talk to them about a house with many dwelling places, a place he will go to prepare, a place they will come to too, eventually, a place filled with his presence.

Did Jesus mean this as a literal image of where he would go to after he died? As a description of heaven? Most probably not. It is like with the images of the door, the bread, the vine, they are images that put the imagination to work and convey something far more profound than mere description.

Jesus is like a door, once you have opened that door a whole new world will open itself up to you. Jesus is like bread, he will feed you and nurture your basic needs with good and solid food. Jesus is like a vine, when you let your life be grafted on his you’ll find life and growth imparting sap flow through your being.

And death? It is like a house with plenty of space, a non threatening place filled with the presence of God. Not something to be afraid of or worried about.
Death not something that will separate us from God, from good, from love, but something that will bring us closer, deeper into the heart of God, nearer to what is truth and life.

Words that echo the words of Psalm 139 where it says that there is nowhere, in heaven or on earth, not even in death itself where we are outside the reach of God’s loving presence. Words reflected once again in Romans 8 where Paul tells his congregation that nothing, no matter how big and intimidating it is, including death, can come between God and his people.

Is there a guarantee for that?
No, not really.

The only guarantee we have is the experience we have of God this side of death. God’s presence and love as we see it manifest itself in our lives and in the lives of others. The witness we have, in word and sacrament of the life of Christ, his death and the stories about his resurrection taking shape and becoming tangible over the ages in communion and community. That He is not dead, but that he lives. Proving that death for God really is only a transition, a journey, a place where there is room to come close to him and dwell in his presence.

In the end that is a matter of faith. Faith that somehow in life and death we are safe inside God’s loving heart, like we ourselves keep our loved ones in love of our hearts in life as well as in death. Faith that God’s love is there on this side of death when we try to cope with the challenges life confronts us with as well as on the other side of death where we, humans, can’t reach, caring and loving, offering strength and support, a way to go, a truth too deep for words, a life stronger than death.
Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005


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