One evening, while a woman was preparing supper, her 19 year old daughter complained of a headache and went to her room to lie down. When her mother went to the bedroom to tell her daughter that supper was ready, the girl was having a seizure. The mother immediately called 911, and the ambulance came to rush the daughter to the hospital. The young woman was pronounced dead upon her arrival at the emergency room.
The mother was devastated. For years, she kept her daughter's room exactly the way it was when she died. She left all her clothes hanging in the closet and the posters hanging on the wall. She even refused to change the sheets on the bed. Many nights, her husband would come home from work to find the mother with her face down on the bed crying. That bedroom was all she had left of her beloved daughter.
Through her grieving process, today's gospel reading came to be a great source of comfort for this woman. Just as she kept a room for her daughter in her home, Jesus had a place prepared for her daughter in heaven. To know that Jesus was now taking care of her daughter - that Jesus had made a home for her - gave her a sense of peace and calm that helped her come to terms with the tragedy of her daughter's death.
Today's gospel reading is part of the narrative of the Last Supper in the gospel of John. The apostles are jittery. They know something is up. They are getting the sense that Jesus is in danger and that they are in danger. They really have no idea how violently Jesus will be treated later that night and into the next day. Jesus senses their anxiety and seeks to calm their fears. He assures them that, though they will be separated for a while, he will prepare a place for them in His Father's house. They will have their faith tested. They will suffer. Most of them will eventually be killed for being followers of Jesus. But, Jesus Himself will come to bring them to His Father's house. Jesus will always have a place for them.
Many of us know what it is like to have an empty room in our homes or an empty place in our hearts for a loved one who is no longer in our lives. It may be a parent, a spouse or a child we have lost to death. It may be an ex-husband or ex-wife who has abandoned us. It may be an adult child who, for whatever reason, wants nothing to do with us. It may be a brother or sister or friend we haven't spoken to in years. We keep a light burning in our hearts or a room ready in our homes, in hopes that they will return.
Imagine, now, that Jesus has the same place prepared for each one of us. Imagine that Jesus has a light burning in hopes that we will return to Him. Jesus is counting on our spending eternity with Him in His Father's house. Can we even begin to imagine how great God's love is for us that He waits for us with the same passion of a mother who grieves for her daughter, or a lover who prays that his beloved will come back to him?
Jesus has a place prepared for each of us in heaven. But, Jesus has also prepared a place for us in this church, in this parish. This is the place where we encounter God. This is the place where we hear God speak. This is the place where Jesus surrenders His Body and Blood for our nourishment. This is the place - as Saint Peter explains in the second reading -where we are built up like living stones into an edifice of spirit offering spiritual sacrifices. It is here that we face Jesus - the Way, the Truth and the Life.
All of us are gathered here for different reasons. Some of us are here because we really believe that being here makes a difference in our lives, whether we can explain it or not. Some of us are here out of a sense of duty. Some of us are here because we just got the feeling that we should go to church today. Some of us don't know why we are here. But, whether we feel it or not, whether we can explain it or not, each one of us belongs here. Each one of us is meant to be here. Jesus means us to be here. Jesus has prepared this place for us. Jesus has prepared these readings for us. Jesus has prepared this message for us. Jesus has arranged all this so that we would meet Him here today. None of us is here by accident or by coincidence. Jesus has prepared this worship event so that He could bump into us and so that He could find some way of getting Himself into our lives.