A Room of Your Own


In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

Last January, while I was priest-in-charge of our link parish of St. Vedast in the City of London, I lived in the rectory. After I arrived, several people from the parish helpfully informed me that the rectory is haunted! Apparently, a ghost is sometimes heard wandering about in the four-story house.

Fr. McCormack’s sister didn’t believe this story. She attributed the noise to drafts that sometimes flow from the terrace on the top floor of the house and rattle the timbers. For my part in the course of my stay, I didn’t detect any supernatural visitor.

Yet these days, the public seizes upon the slightest alleged proof that humans survive death like stories about ghosts or those reports about Heaven from persons who apparently die in an accident and then are brought back to life.

I think the reason for this interest is that people want to know what happens to them after they die. They may not be fearful of death in general. They may be young, and in good health, and happily focused on this world.

But, still, they wonder. And so today’s Second Lesson is among the most studied texts in the Bible. For it is one of the few places where Jesus refers to life after death.

He says to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. 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, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Unfortunately, Jesus doesn’t provide many details about what Heaven is like. In this passage, he does mention, “dwelling places;” in other translations, he refers to “rooms,” or “mansions.”

But Jesus doesn’t describe the dwelling places at all. He doesn’t say whether the rooms will be in celestial houses, nor does he claim, like later visionaries have, that the houses will be situated on streets paved with gold.

No, Christ simply promises his disciples that they will have places waiting for them when they die.

And Jesus seems to feel that’s all we need to know about life after death! Because he has passed beyond death before us, we–his followers have no cause to be “troubled.” Because our future is secure, we don’t have any reason to speculate about the furniture in our after-death dwelling places.

The vital part of Christ’s promise is that we will always be near to God. Because we have been touched by God’s Spirit in Christ, the Spirit will forever be accessible to us.

In fact, some Christian philosophers have preferred to think of Heaven as a “presence,” rather than a place. The medieval German mystic known as Meister Eckhardt once illustrated this concept in an arresting way. Eckhardt said that he would rather be in Hell with Jesus than in Heaven without him.

Now, of course, Meister Eckhardt knew that, in reality. he would never need to make this choice. Jesus wasn’t going to end up in Hell!

But Meister Eckhardt wanted to say in the strongest possible language that he hadn’t embarked on his religious quest in order to gain a heavenly reward. What he wanted—what his soul cried out for—was to find a spiritual connection with the eternal.

And isn’t this true for all of us? Isn’t it more important to find God now? For if we are confident that we are connected with the divine, then our worries about what happens after death will diminish.

“Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said. That is a promise for everyone at those times when we don’t feel at peace with ourselves.

Yet it is a curious fact that many people who have heard Christ’s promise and who say they believe it fail to take him at his word. For example, I occasionally note that some member of our church has been absent for a few weeks.

So I send that person an email to ask if everything is all right. He or she then replies, “I’ve been depressed lately, and I haven’t felt like coming to church.”

When I read this, I think to myself: “But that’s what church is for!” When you don’t feel great is when the church can help you most. We practice our religion on good days in order to gain a solid foundation that we can fall back on when bad days arrive. As we sing in the hymn, “The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.”

In the presence of Christ, then, we find a spiritual home. The word, “home” is a kind of nostalgic benchmark. Have you ever noticed how many New Yorkers who weren’t born here still refer to the place where they grew up as “home?”

Even if they have no relatives left in their former state or country–even if they have no intention of ever moving out of New York–they still speak of “back home.” It’s comforting to think of your birthplace as still there, waiting for you if you need it.

For Christians, the notion of a heavenly home is a source of spiritual comfort. When we feel anxious about the world around us, we can take comfort in God’s promise that whatever happens, we are safe with him.

A famous essay by the British writer Virginia Woolf was entitled, “A Room of One’s Own.” Woolf argued in the essay that a woman needs a room where she can go off by herself, away from her household work and her children. In those private spaces, women could write, or do other creative work—or simply discover who they are as individual persons, apart from their husbands and parents.

Virginia Woolf herself wasn’t a Christian; in fact, she was afflicted with a serious mental illness that eventually led to her suicide. Yet for most of her life, she had a supportive husband and adequate income and “her own room.” And so she was able to write her unique novels and reviews and a remarkable diary that recorded the activities of the Bloomsbury artistic circle.

“Let not your heart be troubled…In my Father’s house are many rooms; I go to prepare a place for you.” In the Father’s House, you have a place where you can be yourself. A room of your own where the troubles of the world can’t touch you–where the divine spirit refreshes you and nourishes you and makes you feel at home.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.

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