Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try / no hell below us / above us only sky / Imagine all the people living for today. / Imagine there's no countries / It isn't hard to do / Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too / Imagine all the people living life in peace, you / You may say I'm a dreamer / But I'm not the only one / I hope some day you'll join us / And the world will be as one / Imagine no possessions / I wonder if you can / No need for greed or hunger / A brotherhood of man / Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you / You may say I'm a dreamer / But I'm not the only one / I hope some day you'll join us / And the world will be as one
No heaven. Imagine. Heaven is hard to imagine. It is almost more than our minds can comprehend. We aren’t equipped to hold eternity in our skulls. It won’t fit. It doesn’t compute. Our imagination, as wondrous as that gift is, isn’t up to the task of imagining heaven. Yet, there seems to be one thing harder. Imagining that there is no heaven.
I understand John’s point, his plea really. He’s asking all of us consider not taking this world for granted. To live as though this was it, this world, this life and to do all we can do to focus on the things that matter. I get it. And I agree. Furthermore, I think Jesus would agree. With the sentiment that this life matters. Not just for what it gets us in the next one. But it’s own sake. This life matters. Because it is the place where we can live the heaven we hope for.
It makes a world of difference whether we see this life as something to be survived, something to suffer through, or something to practice heavenly living. It makes a world of difference whether this world is devoid of the divine hope, a desert to crawl through, parched for the waters of life, or if there are glimpses of heaven around every corner.
We’re obsessed with heaven. It’s been on our minds ever since we had minds. It was on the minds of some in the Southport UMC congregation when I gave them the Meet the Bible survey. We’re concluding that part of the summer series with some reflections on Bible themes. Not a specific passage or book of the Bible, but threads that appear throughout in various ways. Next week we’ll look at grace and forgiveness as Biblical themes. But this week it is heaven.
Heaven slips in and out of the scriptures so often that it should have been easy to get a text to wrestle with. What was difficult was finding something that would let us wrestle with the reality of heaven, since there is so little that we can know for sure. What we want is a map, a Google street view so we could gaze down the streets, read the names on the mailboxes and see if there is anyone we know. What we want is a glimpse of the landscape of heaven. But those passages aren’t really very helpful. Too symbolic, too jeweled or gold-plated to be useful.
On the other hand we have Jesus who tosses out glimpses of heaven like they are riddles to be puzzled over, enigmas to befuddle. It’s like He wants to give us hints, but vastly overrates our ability to comprehend. Oh, we get glimpses, we get hints, but no large oil painting we can hang over the couch in the living room, no jpg we can use as wallpaper on our computers, or could cut and paste our own face over and send out on Instagram - Hi, it’s me, from heaven! Wish you were here.
Wish we were there. It’s an ache within us this wishing to be there. Most of the time we don’t think about it. Most of the time we are busy with living, as we should be. But now and then it overwhelms us. This sense that we aren’t where we’re supposed to be. That it’s long past time we should be going home. The home we long for, the home we were created for. The home for peace and justice, the home for love and wholeness, the home where we know we are welcomed, and loved and accepted.
How will we get there? That’s what we really want to know. Yeah, we want to know what it looks like, but even more we want to know what we will look like. What will our loved ones look like? What will we be?
1 Corinthians 15:35-58 But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" 36 Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.
42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Whew. That’s a lot of words to say I don’t know. But that’s the message. That’s the truth. He doesn’t know. But then again, he knows, does Paul. He knows that what happens in that transition from here to there, from this world to the next one, he knows it is in God’s hands. That’s what he knows. It’s all in God’s hands. God will take the nothing that is us and make it something. A seed, an essence, that which is us, fundamentally us, and create something new. A new body. Imperishable. Spiritual, but not just spirit. A body made of Spirit. That which doesn’t decay, doesn’t erode. A body like Jesus’s, who after resurrection ate and talked and touched and was held. But also entered through barriers, was everywhere at once, was recognizable and not at the same time. He was ... No, He is. That’s the promise. He is. And because He is, we will be too.
My head is spinning, how about you? We can only grapple with these things for so long. And then words run out, images fail to capture. We’re left with a shrug of the shoulders and a strange, but contented smile that says I know. I know what is unknowable. I know with faith what my mind can’t comprehend. And one day I’ll see with the eyes that I am given when raised from the seed that is me. One day I’ll home to the place I know and will recognize though I have never been there before. But I’ll be home. With you. In glory. We’ll be like stars, shining with a light that comes from beyond. The same in glory, but different, recognizable, you’ll be you, I’ll be me, as star differs from star. But one, in a profound way we can only glimpse now. One with Christ, one with each other and one in adoration with the world. Thanks be to God.