This is the meditation I delivered at the graveside service for my grandma on May 22, 2012.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. 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. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The words come at us like a punch in the gut. Or, more precisely, a slap in the face. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” We are not sure if these are the words of a Buddhist monk preaching detachment from all things; or a druggie whose brain was long ago turned to tepid pudding. What words are these? “Don’t worry about it”? They do not comfort. These words cannot be for someone grieving death. Or they are from someone who has never grieved death.
But Jesus has grieved death. Not more than a few months before saying these words, Jesus Himself attended a funeral. And in John 11:35 we read 2 of the most comforting words in Scripture: Jesus wept. Jesus wept at the funeral of a man he was about to raise from the dead. Jesus wept for the grief and sorrow that death caused. Jesus wept in the knowledge that all men must die for all have sinned. So these words “Let not your hearts be troubled” do not come from some disassociated mountain-top guru. These words do not tell us not to mourn. But they do tell us how not to mourn.
We are told that time heals all wounds. But that is a bitter cure. It is a placebo. Time only heals the wound because we chose not to think about it any longer. We do not remember. We do not love. We do not cherish. And eventually, we do not care. Or hurt. Or feel. I want nothing of this healing for it will only leave me a worse person. The way to honor Grandma’s memory is not to gradually just stop thinking about her.
I need a medicine for the soul stronger than pain; fiercer than grief. This is the medicine that Jesus speaks of. It is the strong medicine of belief. It is the effectual medicine of hope. For you see, we do not defeat grief by waiting it out. We defeat grief by relentlessly pursuing, by tenaciously grasping onto something stronger: hope in a savior who has conquered death and promises life.
These words give such strong hope because the words are bold. They are strength and power. 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? I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
These are not the words of a good man. These are not the sayings of a wise teacher. A good man does not say to other men, believe in me and you will have no reason to fear death. A wise teacher does not say to fellow man “I am the only way of eternal salvation.” I good man does not say, “I am God.” These words give no room to neutrality. No one ever left after hearing Jesus and said, “Well that was a nice talk.” People were amazed when Jesus spoke. People were angry when Jesus spoke. But people were not indifferent. And we must not think that anyone can be so today.
Jesus is the only way to eternal life. It is this belief, this hope that gives comfort and conquers grief. And it is belief. Jesus does not say do good work for me. He does not say live a life of self-sacrifice for me. He does not say withdraw from society and spend all your days in prayer and meditation. He says simply, believe in me.
Now the thoughtful cynic will say, “So what’s the difference. One man handles his grief by gradually putting death out of his mind. You cope with grief by thinking about Jesus. Either way, the answer seems to be just forgetting about it.” And if we are not careful he would be right. I am not saying we should just turn our eyes upon Jesus and forget about grandma, I am saying we should have faith that this word from Jesus is true about Grandma.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we know this passage as true. By faith we know that it is true about Grandma. Everything we see and sense says that Grandma is dead. The coffin, the grave, the stone. But these words tell us that Grandma is more alive now than she ever was before.
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. We do not forget grandma, rather, by faith we see her as she really is. By faith in these words of Jesus our hearts are flooded with joy and wonder. When we read those glimpses of heavenly worship in Hebrews 12:22-23- that speak of coming to the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to innumerable angels in festal gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect- we are reading about Grandma. And when we read in Revelation 5 & 7 about all of heaven joining in to worship God and Jesus Christ- the Lamb slain for the sins of man- we are reading about God’s fulfilled promise to Grandma. And when we read in John 14 about an infinite house with glorious rooms, we are reading about the Lord’s fulfilled promise to Grandma.
There is joy in these words. Faith that Jesus is true and joy that grandma has certainly found him to be true. Now is the time we cling to these promises in faith. Grandma has gone to the Father through Christ. The Lord has finished the good work of salvation he begun in her. In faith of this promise our grief is suffocated. In faith of this promise regret, bitterness, anger, and despondency find no place. In joy and gratitude our hearts cry out to the Lord: Thank you Jesus for being a faithful savior. Thank you Jesus for keeping your word. Thank you Jesus for presenting my grandma to your Holy Father as one of your own.
On May 19, Jesus finished getting Grandma’s room ready for her. So now, where he is, she is: enraptured in worship and adoration of the savior who died for her that she might live. Now we count these promises true in the life of Kate Metzler: a sinner saved, daughter of God, dweller in heaven. And as I dwell on her experience of God’s faithfulness to her, I find the power of these words: Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. I find power to rejoice with great joy.