I love the romance of camel caravans trading across deserts and continents in Jesus’ time.
Travel was dangerous, but there were established routes. A caravan of camels, loaded with rich goods, would set out each day. They were guided by a ‘dragoman’; his job was to travel ahead of the caravan to find and prepare the night’s stopping place and return to the caravan and guide it in.
The stopping places were called ‘khans’, which is sometimes translated as ‘inns’, but these inns were nothing like today’s Holiday Inns. A ‘khan’ was a basic circular mud-brick wall enclosing a water supply and spaces for animals and people to sleep. Just places to stop along the journey.
According to Jesus, in his Father’s household, ‘there are many stopping places’. (John 14:2) Jesus compares himself to a dragoman, going ahead of the caravan and preparing each night’s stopping place (John 14:2-3). He returns day by day to guide us there.
Because we regularly read this passage at funerals, we often read it upside down. We think Jesus is telling us about a destination for the dead, a ‘room’ in his Father’s ‘mansion’. That may be true, but it is not the main meaning.
Being a Christian is not so much about the dead as it is about living on the Way. This is strength for times of anxiety, times like the present. The risen Jesus spurs us ‘not to be disturbed’ (John 14:1), because he walks with us on the Way. He prepares our stopping places for us every day (not just at the end of our lives) and guides us to them. He is not simply a companion on the Way: he is the Way (John 14:6)
The Good News is two-fold: Jesus has gone ahead to prepare us a place, so he is a knowledgeable companion, wise in the Way of living. He’s already been this way, through plague and pain. There is nothing that we face that he has not already experienced. Secondly, when we encounter Jesus, we encounter the Father. We don’t need to wait for the appearance of a shadowy God from heaven: God in person, in Jesus, already treads the Way with us.
We know the risen Jesus, both in every act of kindness done to us and accepted by us, and in every act of kindness we do to others. The Way is as simple, and as profound, as that, so ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ (John 14:1)