“Rabbi, where do you dwell?” is the very first question the disciples ask Jesus in the gospel of John. As the gospel comes to a close, with the start of what is known as the ‘farewell discourse’ in the gospel of John, Jesus shows them. It is the by far the longest address of Jesus to his disciples. It is in many ways a very moving address. The one who is their Lord, their master, now has to go away and has to make sure the house is set in order. But it is much more intimate. Of a Father addressing his children who will soon experience a terrible abandonment. Of the Bridegroom leaving his bride. It is full of tenderness and comfort. Not without reason is it the most used gospel during funerals.
The experience of abandonment, of man’s alienation with himself and the world has preoccupied philosophers more intensely in the modern period than at any other time. From the Enlightenment onwards, from Hegel to Marx to Heidegger, there has been a constant grappling with why man does not find himself ‘at home in the world’ – an oft repeated phrase of Hegel. It is no coincidence that it is with the Enlightenment that man declared his independence from everyone, starting with God and decided to establish his dominance over the world. And far from being empowered, he found himself more and more at variance and alienation within himself.
This can however be seen from the first chapters of Genesis. From the moment man distrusted God and fell, he found himself in exile, unable to stay in the presence of God. While everything was in perfect harmony before, now he found himself cut off from God, and consequently from the one closest to him, his wife and even to himself. God would immediately come searching for Adam, even as he hid. And this search would lead to the choice of Israel. God would give an incredible promise to Israel, that he would wed them to himself. He was their bridegroom. In wedding them to himself, God would give his people, wandering in the wilderness, rest. This rest would come about in the land of promise, when they would build the Temple. There would be, finally, a dwelling place of God on earth. It was Eden in miniature, the place of marriage between heaven and earth. It was the place of marriage between heaven and earth. It was here that Israel went to renew their covenant with God, who had promised to wed them to himself eternally. Here they came to be forgiven, to be healed, to be made whole.
As the gospel of John opens, the Baptist would point to one man, as the bridegroom, the one to whom the bride belonged. He would be in himself, the promised perfect union of heaven and earth, what the Temple foretold and Israel was promised. He would be perfectly and fully at home in himself, in the world and in heaven. The would-be disciples ask him, “Rabbi, where do you dwell?”. Where is your home? How is it that you are at home in this world? He dwelt with the Father. He was himself the Temple in person. “Come and see”. He would invite them on a journey. And now, they were nearing the end of that journey. He was promising to take them where he himself dwelt, where they could make their home.
To be without home, a place to belong is one of the deepest afflictions of the human condition. But what does it mean to be at home? At the least, my home is where I come back to rest, wherever I may go. To be at home means that I can be myself without justification to anyone. No one asks me why I am there, in my home. Which also means that a home is made of loving relationships. A place of acceptance, of safety. Where we belong. But even in the most loving homes (and they are not, unfortunately as common as they should be), even the most loving relationships are shattered with death. Once again, we experience separation. The unsuspecting disciples would experience this most horrifically, in a short time, as the one they loved would be brutally taken away from them, tortured and put to death. But Jesus would promise his disciples, his closest friends,
“I am going now to prepare a place for you,and…
I shall return to take you with me;
so that where I am, you may be too"
A first century Jew would have easily recognised the nuptial imagery in Jesus’ words. After being betrothed, the bridegroom would go and prepare the house for his bride. It was then that he would come and wed her and take her to himself, to his home. The disciples probably sense something of the painful love and solemnity that tinges their meal together. But for Jesus, this would be his wedding banquet. The cross would be his wedding bed where he would consummate his wedding. Here, the Temple of his body would be torn apart so that a new Temple would be built, which would have space for you and me. Where we would be God’s Temple on earth. His heart, the innermost sanctuary would be pierced so that we would be forgiven by his blood. Those who would give of themselves to be betrothed to this bridegroom, broken and humiliated on the Cross, would find their own brokenness healed as they would be united with God. They would begin to discover, even on earth that Jesus’ promise is true. In his Father’s house are many dwelling places. And those who dwell here, will not have their hearts shaken, whatever might come. In the Father’s house, there is no competition for a place to dwell. A place of permanence, where we can be ourselves and united with others, because we have found our home in the Father’s heart. This is ours by by birth-right, of baptism. We belong, ultimately to the communion and love between the Father and the Son, our permanent dwelling place, even now on earth, as we await the final marriage of earth and heaven at his glorious coming.