Where are the people you love today? Take a moment to remember them and think about where they are.
When I think about the people I love I think first about my family. My wife, Pam, is at Morningside United Church right now as is our daughter Jess. Our son, Calum, is almost certainly asleep at home in Leith; our other son, Ben, is in Cambridge, and I hope he’s in a library preparing for his exams. My mother will be somewhere in North London, maybe in her home, which I can see in my mind’s eye.
At the moment the next person I think of, when I think of those I love, is a very dear friend who killed himself at the end of last year. His loss is still very raw for me and I don’t know where he is. I can picture his grave and the wicker coffin he was buried in but the man I loved isn’t there, isn’t anywhere I can find him and talk to him. He’s dead and lost to me. That thought sparks memories of the other beloved dead. Where are they? They can’t be found wherever one looks.
So there are people whose exact location I can pinpoint, others I can make a good guess about, some more where I’m pretty confident of the general area and those who will never be anywhere particular again, this side of the resurrection of the dead.
But there are three persons (this is after all Trinity Sunday) for whom the question “where are they?” is a very difficult one. I wonder how many of you thought about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost when I suggested you think about the people you loved. After all they’re persons rather than people, aren’t they? And do we love them? All three? And where on earth are they?
These thoughts were prompted by a verse in our Gospel reading. John Chapter 3 verse 13 reads, in the Revised Standard Version, like this: “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man”.
The Son of man, who from the context must be Jesus, ascends and descends to and from heaven, like a shopper using the lift in Debenham’s. Heaven is on the seventh floor and Jesus goes up, gets knowledge of heavenly things and comes back down to tell us. Jesus moves around from place to place and one of the places he goes is heaven. This is pretty hard to get your head around and I’ll come back to it but to go back to the question I started with: where is Jesus now? (I’m assuming we all love Jesus.)
If we accept the gospel story that Jesus died, rose from the dead, appeared and disappeared for a while, then ascended into heaven the implication is that Jesus, today, is in heaven, if that’s a place.
If we accept the traditional interpretation of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, that we’ll be celebrating soon, then Jesus will, in some way, be present to us as we eat we and drink.
Neither of these seem easy to reconcile with the idea that Jesus is a human being, living or dead, like those we thought about a few minutes ago.
But if he isn’t then what does it mean for us to say that we love him, that he loves us?
What does it mean to say that in Jesus God came to be with us if he wasn’t or isn’t one of us?
And if our belief in Jesus’ humanity depends on the idea that heaven is a place then it will be hard to sustain, won’t it? We know how the physical universe is structured and there isn’t room in it for a country called heaven where God and Jesus can live together.
But if Jesus becomes an idea or a memory can we still love him? We know we can love those who are dead so we can still love him, maybe, but can we hope for salvation from him?
These puzzles about placing Jesus in space get worse when we think about the God who sent him. This God existed before there was space, we are told. This God created everything and is everywhere. That seems easier to make sense of than Jesus the man being in heaven, somehow, but then what could it mean to be a person who was everywhere and, therefore, nowhere in particular and that’s before we start on the Holy Spirit, who is sent, implying movement from place to place but who is also everywhere and nowhere.
So let’s stop thinking about these puzzles. We don’t know, we can’t know, we will never know. Let’s just accept that, shall we?
Someone and something quite unique and quite incomparable is being described using language and images that need him being to be like other people or other beings.
Jesus is not an angel, a heavenly messenger totally alien to us poor fallen creatures nor was he just a very holy and wise human being who we can remember and revere. What we’re taught, what I believe, is that Jesus, somehow, was and is both God and one of us and that in bringing God and humanity together in one person he was able to transform our relationship with God and our knowledge of what God is and what God wants from and for us.
However that worked 2000 years ago it goes on working; the Holy Spirit, God present everywhere, enables us to be brought, through the Word and in the sacraments, into Jesus’ continuing presence. He can touch us, heal us, reconcile us to God, to one another, and to ourselves still, through the power of the Spirit. I can’t tell you how that works, I can only attest that I know it to be true. I feel it, I know it, I experience it.
In the end that’s all I’ve got to say to you, we love our families and our friends, living and dead, but for us that wouldn’t be enough without the love of Jesus, Jesus who is, in whatever way, with us here today.
In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.