Recently, one of the older folks here in Chontal died. He had been in the hospital with cancer, and it was discovered that it had metastasized to much of his body. The family had prepared a space in their home for him to live out his final stage of life, and things had been going along pretty well until in a bad week things suddenly took a turn for the worse. He died on a Saturday morning at 5am, in the house of his son and daughter-in-law and their kids, where he had lived for the previous 10 years or so. He died while sleeping, with his daughter-in-law holding his hand.
As is the custom here, the family prepared their house to be a place to receive Eduardo’s body in his casket, with a silver cross from the funeral home at its head. The house is open to the outdoors like all the homes here, and Eduardo’s casket was placed on the patio porch area, and chairs were set and food and drink served to people as they came over the course of the night and various times to offer condolences, pray, socialize and just accompany the family. There on the side of the Guayllabamba River, in this little known valley, a place was prepared for Eduardo’s goodbye.
Some time before the funeral Mass the next morning at 10am, I went over to the church to get some things ready. A bunch of people showed up to prepare the church by cleaning it and setting up flowers. After the Mass, one of the grandchildren read a prepared letter honoring Eduardo’s life and place in their hearts, and then the procession began to the new cemetery in the village – the cemetery that was just prepared a month ago.
Everyone processed down, and after closing the church, I followed to catch up and find everyone with the priest for the final prayers in front of the open sepulcher, with some men preparing cement alongside. With painful cries, the family took one last look, and then his casket was slid into the sepulcher, which was then slowly sealed by the men, one cinder block and slab of cement at a time.
And amid the height of the crying and pain and shock of death, deep down, there was a peace for everyone. Having lived a poor and difficult life, Eduardo had a place prepared for him with love every step of the way at the end. It was all a sign of what – and who – is coming for him.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus talks to his disciples at the Last Supper about preparing a place for them. What he’s doing is using the language of Hebrew marriage. He’s saying that the marriage is now set, and, as the husband, he’s going to prepare a place for each of them in his Father’s house, and then he’s going to come and bring them to himself. Eduardo was given this promise many years ago. And now Jesus was fulfilling it.
Jesus gave his life on the cross to seal a marriage-like covenant with us, and then went to the Father to prepare places for each of us. This is the promise that we receive when we receive him, and that we renew whenever we fulfill his request to “do this in memory of me”. A day will come for you when he comes to fulfill all the promises made, to live together in the most profound and satisfying fulfillment, love – and peace.
A place is prepared for you.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” (Jn 14:2-3)