This is what Easter Sunday is all about. Phrases such as Eternal Life, the Kingdom of God, Eternity, all point and mean just one thing, the place called Heaven. In the New Testament the writer mentions and makes reference to Heaven some 611 times. Heaven is the most basic teaching of Christianity. Heaven is the bottom line for all of us, either we make it or we don't. Heaven has to be defined as a place where all the questions asked on earth will be totally answered. Heaven is a place where all the problems unresolved on earth will be totally resolved. The Mission of Christ was to come from Heaven to earth and lead us from earth back to Heaven. Each one who does any thinking has a different idea of what Heaven is like.
Heaven has to be considered from both a biblical and theological point of view. Every person who wrote a gospel mentioned the fact of Heaven. If you look at the writings of St. Paul where he mentions, "The eye has not seen, nor has the ear heard the things that God has in store for each one who served him on earth." If you read the writings of St. John where he writes the former things of this world will have passed away, there will be neither mourning nor grieving. There will be no pain, no suffering. Even in the beautiful psalm, The Lord is my Shepherd, the beautiful lines remind us that even though we walk in the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for one day I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Scripture makes it clear that Heaven isn't some large retirement village or some home for the elderly. When Christ said, "In my father's house there are many mansions," he was telling us that Heaven is a specific place to look forward to because of the happiness that we will experience.
Heaven has to be considered from the standpoint of theology. Every great theologian from Augustine to Aquinas has written about the place we called Heaven. It is the place where the unanswered questions of today will be totally answered. Where all unresolved problems will be totally resolved. But, in talking about Heaven, they spell out very clearly that it will only be realized through personal faith and personal hope. Personal faith that teaches us that Jesus Christ was God, that he could not lie, he could not deceive anyone. Faith means believing in the words of Christ who said, "I go to prepare a place for you." Hope in the power of God means that God never lets anything happen unless something good is to come from it. Holy Week is the example of how tragedy is turned into triumph. Hope reminds us that God sometimes writes in crooked lines to teach us that good oftentimes can come out of tragedies. Just think of how we have benefited from the tragedies of others. From out of a family that experienced Polio came the Salk vaccine. From out of the deafness of a Thomas Edison, came the new concepts in stereo. From out of the blindness of a Thomas Braille came the Braille method method of sight reading. And from out of this season, this Good Friday, came the reminder of the victory of Christ over the tragedy of death that reminds us that we share in that victory and that we will rise with Christ and that we will have a place in the Kingdom of Heaven. But, this takes faith and hope.
When we talk of Heaven amidst all the problems of earth, we have to keep in mind that when Christ walked this earth, he didn't cure the problem of leprosy or slavery or high unemployment. If he came to this earth, he wouldn't cure the problem of cancer or Aids. His mission was to come from Heaven to earth so that we could go from earth to Heaven. Every great scripture writer has told us of the world that awaits us, every great theologian has written that through the deepening of personal faith and hope, that Heaven awaits us.
No talk on Heaven is complete without considering the justice and the mercy of God. In Heaven there will be perfect justice and in Heaven there will be perfect and complete mercy. That is what Heaven is all about. When you think of the fact that there are 800 million people on this globe, who have a salary of just $400 per year, how can this reflect perfect justice? When you consider that almost half of the people on this globe go to bed at night hungry, how can this reflect the mercy of God? It is time to repeat the definition that Heaven is the place where all the questions unanswered on this earth will be answered in God's home. If you look at the Beatitudes and consider the oppressed that Mother Theresa worked for, if you can consider all the people who don't seem to have any degree of happiness, then you have to look closely at the Beatitudes.
The Beatitudes start off by telling us, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the oppressed..." both the first and the last Beatitude tell us that the Kingdom of God will be theirs. And those are not just words from Christ. They are the promises of Christ to those who are oppressed.
Concerning the mercy of God and this applies to parents -- parents who have guilt and regret over the mistakes they made in life and especially with their children. Sigmund Freud once said, "Being a parent even in the most ideal of circumstances is a most impossible vocation." Heaven is a place where we experience an unusual type of forgiveness from Christ. If Christ on earth told us we must be willing to forgive each other 70 times 7 times, then don't you think that an all merciful God will forgive us even more than we are expected to forgive each other? Heaven is the place where total mercy and total justice will be experienced after our life on earth is over.
This theme of Heaven has been treated by every great philosopher and writer. Plato talked about a new state of happiness that awaits us after this earth. Socrates taught about a new kind of existence. Elizabeth Barrett Browning once alluded to Heaven when she said, "I will love thee with all the breath, smiles and tears of my life, and if God should so choose, I will love thee better after death."
The most provocative paragraph about Heaven has come from the pen of Thomas Wolfe who died at about the age of 38. The author of You Can't Go Home Again once wrote on this theme. He wrote to a friend and told him how his life was changed by reading the New Testament lines of Christ where it said "Come to me all you who are heavily burdened and I will refresh you." He wrote about his meditation on this line and said, "Someone has spoken to me in the middle of the night. Someone has told me I am going to die. I know not when, I know not where. I have no fears for I will lose the earth I fear for a place of greater knowing. I will lose this life for a greater life. I will leave the friends I now have for a place of greater friends. This new home, this new land will be more kind to me than the earth I call home. I will go out beyond the stars, out beyond the planet Mars and into the arms of God to the place he calls Heaven."
And my friends, that is what Easter is all about.
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