5th Sunday of Easter C
Have you ever thought about what heaven would be like? Have you planned it out in your head? I would have every day be Niska Day (our great community celebration in Niskayuna) with everyone coming together and people calling out my name. The weather would be in the high sixties with just a bit of a breeze. And of course the Mets would win every game. It all sounds perfect except for one thing. If I had my perfect heaven, I would be all alone because it would be nobody else’s idea of perfection. After all, what would poor Rotterdamians and Glenvillites think if every day was Niska Day? And the other priests would be annoyed by all the attention I was getting. Some people like the weather a little hotter than I do. Although if you would like it much hotter, there is an alternative eternal reality you can choose. And if the Mets won every day, Phillies fans would be upset which would be theoretically troubling. In fact, my heaven might be someone else’s hell. When I think of it, my heaven seems a little selfish, which does not seem to be the point of the Jesus project. Maybe heaven is not where you get everything you want. Maybe heaven is where you want everything you get.
My picture of heaven has been greatly altered by the work of the wonderful scripture scholar N.T. Wright who has inspired me to look at heaven in a new way. Our goal is not merely to live a good life and end up somewhere else altogether. No, we are part of the remaking of the new heaven and new earth as we heard in the second reading. Salvation includes transformation of this place for and by God. We hear this in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans where he says “creation is groaning,” awaiting the redemption of God. (Romans 8:22) This view literally grounds us in our reality and our responsibility to “make all things new.” It is the project of tomorrow and the project of today as Jesus has already begun the formation of this new heaven and earth for when Christ came to earth, he “heavened” it up. We now have all the tools we need to make this new world through Christ for his love, mercy and compassion are available to us here. We are working on our salvation now by building the kingdom of God.
So if heaven is not the place where you get everything you want and it is not some far off place, what is it? I think we just heard it in the Gospel. Heaven is the place that is defined by Christ’s final and most compelling command to his apostles. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” In our final disposition, perhaps this is the sole rule of existence. Heaven is the place of selfless and gracious love. Laying down your life in love has brought us the greatest happiness here, and might be the key our ultimate and eternal happiness. In such a place, our arms are extended not to be filled with what we want, but by the embrace of another. In such a place, my personal bliss is the happiness of the other and their joy is my happiness. In such a place, service is not my burden, but my delight. In such a place, Jesus-like love reigns.
And do you know what the best part of thinking about heaven in this way is? I do not have to die to start. I can live more heavenly right now in this place in which God is preparing a new paradise free from death and suffering. The better I love, the more heaven will be familiar and the more people I will have familiarized it to. Let us live now as we ultimately hope to be. Let us love one another as Jesus Christ has loved us.