Morning Prayer today includes the most used, publicly read, passage of Scripture in our day: John 14: 1-6. These verses bring comfort to the bereaved in the text of many funeral services each year. This would not have been the case in the past, when a long portion of 1st Corinthians chapter 15, in which St Paul expresses his belief in the resurrection, would most commonly appear. John 14 on the other hand speaks of Christ’s promise to the disciples that he would be with them and carry them to the Father’s house,
I have often pondered in my mind as to how and why this change of emphasis in the liturgy has taken place. Is it easier to grasp the idea that life somehow continues albeit in a place that we cannot fully imagine, than to embrace the concept of death and resurrection? My thoughts, such as they are, in weighing the respective merits of St John’s writing and that of St Paul in this context, bring me to conclude that what many of us view as life beyond this mortal existence relies on mental pictures that are most closely aligned with what we understand from personal experience in this life. In other words, as John gives us Christ’s words today they help us form a concept of the life of eternity that reflects the homely images of security and protection that are familiar and changeless. As changeless, in fact, as Christ himself - and, although John does not use the word ‘love’ in this context, we know it to be present in his understanding too.
St Paul’s writing to the Corinthians in chapter 15 of his first letter to that Church, on the other hand, is embracing the more challenging theological understanding of death and resurrection, and is rich with imaginative expressions of renewal and hope, whilst less personal and individually orientated to Christ, though, of course, theologically inseparable from him.
Both are wonderful passages of Scripture, and are as timeless in their teaching as they are inexhaustible in their ability to draw us in and encourage thought and prayer.