There is a general attitude we are blest with living in our Christian culture. Die one day and heaven the next. What is particularly common is that many who only turn to the Church for such funeral occasions come with that expectation.
In essence it is what our simplest understanding of our faith teaches. However, this understanding can be construed inaccurately. We teach that with Jesus death and resurrection, the great sense of separation that dominated our relationship with God was removed. The hasty conclusion is that this means that on death we find ourselves immediately in a place called heaven.
Yes one with God means we can say we are in heaven. The relationship is indisputably linked. But that is more accurately referring to state of mind rather than a physical space. For this reason it applies to us now. So how should we understand this? Because it is a state of the mind it is affirming that we are on a heavenly journey. Such a journey is not one of bliss, for that is often identified as the destination.
To assume bliss comes at the moment of death, is to jump the gun. The traditional caution the church has used, was to speak of paradise, still an experience of growth and development. The Jews spoke of an experience of deep slumber, with a final grand resurrection for all. The Buddhists opted for reincarnation. All emphasize that the spiritual quest is a journey. So our journey could well be called the journey of resurrection.
JOURNEY OF RESURRECTION
Here is our challenge. What constitutes this new resurrection journey we have just read about? The goal is beautifully described, I could equally say painted by John as we read in our epistle reading.
“We do not know what we shall be, but what we do know is that we shall be like him.”
Reflecting on Jesus teaching and his call to this new life one pattern emerges. What happened in Jesus life, is not divorced from what was taking place within him. Similarly our exterior is shaped by our interior life. He was physically crucified because interiorly he lived a life of sacrificial love in harmony with the being of the creator.
Not even hatred, suffering or death could distract him from such faithfulness
Resurrection life for us means that we need to understand the way of inner transformation; from one who is self-serving and egotistical to one that is community orientated. One where we are as sensitive to the needs of others and as keen to care for them as we are to respect the gift of life we have been given. As Jesus declared to the young lawyer who asked him what must he do to inherit eternal life “love your neighbour as yourself” do this and you will live.
How else do you say the perfection of love?
This is the model that fosters, nurtures, encourages the loving spirit within us. It is an inner transformation that leads to the divine love that is the foundation of all human life living at its optimum. In stark language, Jesus spoke of this transformation as learning to die to self.
“To take up ones cross and follow him."
Far from being a loss of life, it is the pathway to the abundant life he said he had come to offer us. It’s just that it depends upon this transformation from self preoccupation to compassion for others.
It is the pathway to the “purity of heart”. And as Jesus said in his great sermon on the mount...
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”
And that is the resurrection destiny.
The earliest Christians witnessed the extraordinary transformation that came in Jesus life, through crucifixion and resurrection. They witnessed to it by learning that it was the model they were called to live. What they discovered was that it was a heavenly path, for it is the means by which one lives most fully in the presence of God.
This is heaven on earth. We don’t wait till we die in the hope we know it. We start today to discover the heaven in our midst and follow its calling.