I did a memorial service this afternoon for Mark Boschen, one of our new members who died quite suddenly and unexpectedly. He was 61 years old.
One of his favorite scriptures was John 14:1-3, in which Jesus says to his disciples, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. In my father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” I told the congregation that when I was a boy, growing up in West Virginia, people usually quoted that passage from the King James Version, the one that says, “In my father’s house are many mansions.” Since many of these people were poor, they relished the idea that even though they were living in shacks, they would one day be living in mansions. I didn’t know until I went to seminary that the Greek word translated as “mansions” in the King James Version is really monai, which means something more like “dwelling places,” or even “rooms.” When I translate it these days I like to say, “In my father’s house there is plenty of room.”
I told the story about the time I was pushing my daughter Ellie on the swing in the back yard when she was two or three years old. I was quieter than usual and she noticed. When she asked me about it I said, “Well, I’m just a little sad about Mr. Brent.” Mr Brent was a member of my church there in New Castle, Kentucky. He had died that same day, and I was still absorbing the blow. He had been good to Ellie, too, and she got quiet as she thought about him not being around anymore.
“Where did Mr. Brent go?” she asked. “To God’s house,” I answered. “Where is that?” she asked. “In heaven,” I answered, and then I told her a little more. “God has this house, you see, with a big front porch and steps coming down to the front yard, where there are oak trees growing and acorns everywhere on the ground if the squirrels don’t get to them. There are old men sitting in rockers on the front porch whittling and telling stories. Inside the house there are children running up and down the steps, and in the kitchen women are cooking, talking, and laughing, and there’s always a fresh pot of coffee for anyone who comes looking. It’s a wonderful place, God’s house, and every once in a while God himself comes through to get a cup of coffee, or bounce some babies on his knee, or sit on the front porch with the men. Those are the best times of all.”
Ellie was quiet for a while and then she asked, “Are there toys there?” “Oh, yes!” I promised. “There are lots of toys.”
She was quiet again and then said, “I want to go.”
And my heart broke open, to think of my precious little girl gone from me, even to a wonderful place like that, even to God’s house.
As I told that story I could see that for the Boschen family it didn’t have to be a little girl to break your heart. It could be a 61-year-old man. It could be anyone. And even the idea that the one you love is going to God’s house doesn’t keep your heart from breaking. But what if you didn’t have that much? What if you thought that when your loved ones died they were simply lost and gone forever? What then? Is there anything that could console you?
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said. “You believe in God; believe also in me. In my father’s house there is plenty of room. 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.”
That’s good news, and comforting news too, for Mr. Brent, for the Boschen family, and for the fathers of little girls everywhere, who need to know that someone is watching out for us, and making room for us—plenty of room—so that where he is we can be. All of us. Together. Forever.