One of the most powerful images of God that we see in our scripture readings for today is the image of God as our loving father. And I honestly can’t think of anything more fitting for a day like this as we gather to say goodbye to our dear brother in Christ, Bob Svoboda. The love that our Father has for his children was brightly reflected in the love that Bob had for his family.
Bob was a faithful servant of the church and his country, and he was a dedicated farmer. But as you look around at all the many – many – photos and mementos that his family has brought, and listen to the wonderful stories that his family tells about him, what really shines through more than anything else is the love and pride that Bob felt for his kids, his grandkids, his great-grandkids, and his whole family. He was so proud of all of you, and he was especially proud to be able to hand down the legacy of the family farm to a new generation. He was proud to hand down a legacy of love and faith.
And Bob meant a lot to his family. Bob’s family knew that his love for them was unconditional. And again, this reading from John is so fitting – all the more as I hear your memories of Bob – the image of God’s house as one with many dwelling places, a house with open doors and a ready welcome, a house where there’s probably really nice carpets and a lawnmower you can ride, a place where you could always go and expect to find love and support, and maybe a grandpa hug or two. Bob was always ready and willing to support his family; they knew he was the person to go to whenever they needed help.
Bob was the steady rock of his family, through illnesses and accidents and broken relationships and the hundreds of other dramas that just come with the territory of being family. He brought them together, even in the most difficult of times; and they knew they could count on him for everything from babysitting duty to lending a listening ear (and I do mean just one listening ear!).
Haha, Bob also had a great sense of humor. Actually, one of my favorite memories of Bob is from Christmas Eve last year – it was not long after he had surgery to remove his ear, and I couldn’t resist: as he was leaving worship, I wished him a “Merry Christmas and a happy new ear!” And we had a good laugh together. Bob meant a lot to this congregation. He was a regular helper with the mobile food bank, he served on council, and he was often on hand to help fix things around the church. He was an important thread in the fabric of our life together as a congregation.
And for his family, Bob was an integral part of your daily lives. And all of this makes a day like today all the more difficult. Because you all won’t just feel this loss one time; you will feel it again and again in the days to come, in the many little daily moments that will remind you that he’s gone. It’s never easy to say goodbye to someone we love – but when you count on someone as much as I know you all counted on Bob, knowing that he won’t be there anymore is devastating.
And so I can imagine that right now, at least some of you are feeling pretty lost. It takes time to truly wrap our heads around the death of a loved one, and grief can be a bewildering experience. We wonder how we can possibly know the way to move forward without the person that we loved beside us. As Thomas asked: “How can we know the way?”
And Jesus says to us today the same words that he spoke to Thomas long ago: “I am the way”; “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus did not say these words lightly. He spoke them to his disciples as they were gathered around the table in the upper room – on the night in which he was betrayed – the night before he was killed. His disciples loved him and counted on him, and he knew how lost they would feel after his death. But he reassures them that they will not feel lost forever. A little later on in this same chapter, he promises them: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.”
Jesus is our way. Even when we can’t see him at work in our lives, he is with us, guiding us and comforting us. He will not leave us feeling orphaned. Jesus is our way forward through the days and weeks and years to come. We can lean on him through prayer and through his presence in the body of Christ gathered here.
And much greater still than this, Jesus is our way to eternal life, our way to life with our Father. Even as Thomas and the other grieving disciples were struggling to come to grips with the reality of Jesus’ death, the wheels of resurrection and life were already in motion. Jesus already knew what was coming. And in that same night, in the midst of death and grief, Jesus promises his disciples: “Because I live, you also will live.”
This promise is the foundation of our hope. Because Christ lives, we also will live. Because Christ lives, Bob also will live. As Christians, we profess our belief in this promise every time we recite the Creed. We have been united to Christ in his death and life through the waters of our baptism. And we know that Christ’s promises are trustworthy and true. So when he says that there are many dwelling places in his father’s house and that he goes to prepare a place for us, we know we can believe it.
Jesus prepares a place for each and every one of us in our Father’s house. And I have to say, I find that image extraordinarily comforting. This is such a complicated time to grieve, when we are living through a global pandemic and encouraged to keep our distance from one another and even to be wary of our neighbor. How beautiful it is instead to imagine all of God’s children belonging to one household, living together under one roof for all eternity.
Our brother Bob has gone to the place that has been prepared for him. The loving father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, husband, and friend that we all knew so well has now been welcomed home by his Father. And he is present with us still even now in the great communion of the saints, who are waiting to welcome each of us into the eternal feast.
So come, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens – come, all you who are weighed down with grief and sadness – your heavenly Father is with us, and he will give you rest