All the way to heaven is heaven
for he said,
“I am the way.” – St. Catherine of Sienna
This morning’s Gospel reading reminds us of the tension we Christians feel while on this earth. While we are here, we are definitely not yet in heaven. Yet, we who believe Jesus is the Christ are to live as if we were already there.
In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus tells his disciples:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
St. Paul said it this way (Philippians 1:21) “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”.
The Christian must expect this world to be full of “many dangers, toils and snares”. It comes as no surprise to us. Our Lord’s challenge to us while we are here is to be patient in tribulation, constant in prayer, to rejoice in hope, and to be genuine in our love toward others (Romans 12:9-13). We are to turn the other cheek. We are to pray for our enemies.
If to live is Christ, then indeed we all have a cross to bear, for that is the example Jesus set for us. He lived his life for others, selflessly laying down what no one could take from him, so that the suffering and sins and brokenness of the whole world might be defeated in his death, and that we might see in his resurrection the hope of new life.
And what of that new life?
You always hear at funerals the comforting words, “well, she’s in a better place now”. What is this better place, if not heaven?
What is heaven?
Heaven is simply this: being in the presence of God. Seeing Jesus face to face. The New Testament reading today says there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and that
the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:1-7)
In heaven, “the dwelling place of God is with man”. That is to say, we will see Jesus face-to-face. Isaiah prophesied that a virgin would have a child and call his name “Immanuel”. Immanuel means God with us
So heaven is the place where we can be with Jesus.
And that is why I said that Christians live with a tension, because we actually have our feet in two worlds. We are here on Earth like everyone else, working through the “veil of tears”, yet we have one foot in heaven, too. Because Jesus is The Way. He said, “behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” (Matthew 28) and when we believe in him, when we walk by faith and not by sight, then every day we are alive here, we are already living there.
From the moment we are baptized, we are living with one foot in this world, and the other in the next. (It shouldn’t be hard for Texans to figure this out. If we can call this place “God’s country”, and yet pay taxes, surely we can appreciate that Christians live as if we are already in heaven, even though we are still on this earth.)
Mrs. Frieda has finally got both feet in heaven. Here on earth, she died to sin everyday, from the day of her baptism until Tuesday night. And she needed to: She was a sinner. But in Christ, she was washed free from the stain of sin. In Christ, she is a saint. She traded her heavy burdens for the yoke of faith, and by faith, she walked with Jesus. Today, she doesn’t need faith, because she sees him face to face.
It is hard for us, because we cannot see Jesus face to face: We can only see him by faith. And it is going to be hard for us not to see Mrs. Frieda face to face anymore on earth. But by faith we know she is not really gone. By faith we know she is more alive now than ever.
Today there are tears, because of suffering and sin and death, which have separated us for a time from Frieda. Tears from our mortal eyes because our mortal eyes cannot see what we grasp by faith. And that is hard. But we are not without hope.
Jesus is our hope – that there is life after death, that one day we will see Frieda again. Until that day, when our feet will both be planted firmly in heaven, we take comfort in the awkwardness of having one foot in both worlds.
We will remember the time we shared, we will mourn her loss, we will celebrate her new life in Jesus. And we will live our lives here as if we were already living there, because Jesus is the way.