As a young child my family used to take vacations during the summer at my grandparents’ house at the Lake of the Ozarks. Those times are treasured memories. It was time when we were together as a family, just being together; fishing boating, water skiing, swimming. I can remember lying on the floor coloring with my aunt, helping to clean the fish with my father, helping my grandmother snap the ends off the green beans and dredge the cat fish in cornmeal and the perch in seasoned flour to prepare dinner for the family. It wasn’t that the things we were doing were so remarkable. What made them so wonderful and what firmly planted them in my memory as cherished time is that it was time spent together with the ones I loved. Time that was unhurried and undistracted by outside demands or by the television, long before cell phones and computers that would be yet another way for the outside world to try to steal away our attention and keep us from being fully present to one another.
I remember a time not long ago when one of my best friends lost her father-in-law. They were Jewish so we sat Shiva with them- days of just being together- talking, eating, and being present with them in that undistracted, uninterrupted time. Just being with them in their grieving.
You are good at this sharing time with one another. It’s one of the qualities that I have admired about this community. You make your relationships with family and friends a priority. You spend time with one another. You are with each other in your grieving and in your celebrations. You gather together for fellowship. Your children want to come back to Macon to live because they want to be near family with whom they are in the habit of sharing life with. They are accustomed to the experience of blessing one another in that companionship that are so much a part of this community and they miss it when they are away. It is truly a gift. You are already experiencing in the way you all support one another a glimpse of the kind of love and support that comes from living in the presence of God.
The word companion comes from the Latin roots “together with-- bread”. The English word comes from the old French meaning “one who breaks bread with one another”. Jesus modeled this companionship with his disciples to demonstrate to us the kind of relationship God desires to have with us. He referred to himself as the bread of life because we are meant to live in relationship, in companionship with him. This companionship with God was the intention in creation and enjoyed before the fall in the Garden of Eden. It is the picture of heaven in Revelation seen by John. The New Jerusalem coming out of heaven is a picture of heaven- the place where God dwells. There is no temple because God himself is the temple along with the Lamb, Jesus. There is no need for the sun or the moon because the presence of God means the city is always filled with light. Because it is never night since there is no darkness, the city gates are never shut. There is safety in God’s presence, no reason for fear, and no need to keep anyone out because no one who is still in their sin is able to enter into the presence of God. There is nothing but welcome here. All who are willing to receive the free gift of salvation, to drink from the water of life, are welcome in this place. The river of the water of life flows through the city. The source of that water of life is God himself and the lamb. On either side of the river is the tree of life bearing fruit in all seasons, a sign of eternal life that has been restored to all through the salvation of the lamb. Its leaves are for healing. Nourishment, healing, thirst that has been fully satisfied are all part of living in the presence of God. All that is there is a natural outcome of living in the presence of God. Everyone is able to look on the face of God because their sin has already been dealt with once and for all in the sacrifice of the lamb. The Lord’s name is on their foreheads so his name is both ever before them and identifies them as his own. His name on their forehead is a sign that they bear his character and his love within them.
This kind of existence comes out of being in relationship with God. That companionship spoken of in Revelation as the picture of heaven is the relationship being promised by Jesus to the disciples in our reading from the gospel of John. Jesus is about to go to the cross. They are sitting at the table at the last supper. He has washed their feet and Judas has already left to betray him. Now he is preparing them for what is ahead. He has promised that he will not leave them as orphans. Even though he is leaving them and will go to the Father after the resurrection, he will be going to prepare a place for them in heaven. “In my Father’s house are many mansions- or dwelling places” he says. But they don’t have to wait until they go to heaven to be in the kind of companionship they have enjoyed with him. They will experience his presence and the presence of the Father in the coming of the Holy Spirit. Even though Jesus will no longer be with them bodily after he ascends to heaven, he will be with them in the Holy Spirit. In the Holy Spirit they will know the fullness of the presence of God. Other names for the Holy Spirit are the helper, the comforter, the advocate, the counselor, the healer- all the outcome of being in the presence of God right now on earth as we will one day fully experience in heaven. The Holy Spirit never left. He has not left us as orphans. We are not alone. He is with us, companioning with us in our struggles, comforting us in our grieving, rejoicing with us in our joys, strengthening and directing us in our work, restoring us in our resting, filling us with his love, and anointing us with his Spirit in our worship. This is at the heart of God’s desire for us—to be with us—now and for all eternity—to share in our life, to love us, to be in relationship with us, to companion with us, breaking bread with us, so that we might know all the benefits of life in the fullness of the presence of God. This is what we are praying for when we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is what we are reaching for in Communion when we come to receive the body and blood of Christ who died that we might have life and have life abundantly. Because of his sacrifice we are able to enter into that companionship with the Father—to live even now in the full presence of God.
I have been at the bedside of many when they are preparing to die. But there is something wonderful about the death of those who have received the gift of forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ and lived in this companionship with God. There is an incredible peace about their dying, a sense that they are moving from life on this earth to life in heaven but their relationship with the Father is seamless. It is a homecoming. Even when they are leaving behind those they love there is a sense of peace. There is nothing to fear. They have known the joy of that relationship on earth that they know will be fully theirs in heaven.
This is God’s desire for each one of us. To know his love, his presence, his companionship, now on earth even as we will one day experience it more fully in heaven.