Today’s full reading is John 14:1-14
“If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going away to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”
We’re going to spend a couple of days on this one verse noting two different things about the Father. The first has to do with the destination Jesus believes he going to and the second about the nature of the relationship between the Father and the Son.
Instantly I’m struck by Jesus’ thoughts about the Father. He’s talking about his death, he’s talking about dying and yet he doesn’t say ‘I’m going to better place’ (like a sentimental Englishman). Instead he says ‘I’m going to the Father.’
Jesus is enthusiastic not about dying, nor about ‘being at peace’, nor about ‘going to a better place’. He’s enthusiastic and optimistic about going to be with the Father.
For Jesus dying is but a doorway to the Father. It’s unpleasant and in his case it’s going to be excruciatingly painful (literally ex-crux — ‘from the cross’) but it’s the person of his Father that he’s most mindful about being with. He’s not looking forward to the pain of the cross but he is looking past that to the reality and pleasure of being with his Father.
This is what the Father is like then. He is one whose company is to be desired. Jesus said ‘if you love me… you’d rejoice.’ Rejoice!? He wanted his disciples to celebrate. He wanted them to be glad. They were to celebrate not that he’s dying but that he’s going to be with his Father.
In all likelihood when the disciples first heard Jesus say this all they probably heard was ‘I’m going away’ — but what filled Jesus’ mind wasn’t the leaving but the arriving, arriving in his Father’s presence once again.
This is what death is for the Christian. Death is going to be with our Father. It isn’t just going to a ‘better place’ nor even is to just go and be with ‘God’. Rather it is our ‘Father’ who is the object of death’s destination. The person, the presence, the intimacy, the reality of our Father.
Thinking about death like this comforts me when I consider those I’ve known who’ve died, especially those who’ve died in Christ. It also gives me comfort when thinking about my own death. It helps me to believe that death isn’t the end, a full stop after the final chapter of my life. Death is what leads me to be with the one I love and who loves me and who created all things out of the overflow of his love.
All this also reinforces to me the importance of changing the way I think about God. If I believe that God is a mean, strict and cold ‘man in the sky’ then death has nothing for me to look forward to. But he isn’t like that. He is a Father that the Son was enthusiastic about going to be with.
Father I’m comforted and encouraged by your Son’s attitude to death. It helps me dispel some of my own doubts about death and fear of death. Thank you that the people I love aren’t lost, that they aren’t even just ‘at peace’. Thank you that those I love are with you, in your company seeing you face to face. I love you. Amen.