‘Heaven’ was a sermon given by Ralph Mallinson on 2nd June 2019 at St John with St Mark, Bury. It’s based on John 17:3.
For the Vicar of Dibley, heaven meant being surrounded by mountains of chocolate. And many think of heaven in terms of food and drink: heavenly food, heavenly wine.
For others heaven equals being physically pampered. Perhaps soaking in a hot bath with plenty of foam and unguents, surrounded by aromatic candles.
For yet others, heaven is being in a beautiful countryside with lovely views or lying on a beach soaking up the sun or listening to the music of J S Bach.
And wishing all these things could go on for ever.
Heaven is in a relationship
The Bible doesn’t tell us much about what heaven is like. However, it does use certain images – life, light, peace, wedding feasts, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem. And when artists have tried to depict heaven, with help of word pictures from that odd book Revelation, they have produced clouds, angels, harps. This is taken up by hymns like Lo, he comes with clouds descending or See the Conqueror. Words and images that are not exactly inspiring, indeed sometimes rather boring.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, in St. John’s Gospel, gives a rather different pointer to our eternal destiny. For John, it is not rooted in a place or an activity, which are suggested by the other images, scriptural and non-scriptural we’ve seen. It is rooted in a relationship.
Heaven, eternal life, he suggests, is rooted in a relationship, a relationship of love. “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God” (John 17.3). For to know God is to know love, for love is the definition of the very essence of who God is.
All who have experienced true love, loving and being loved, will I expect testify that this is a much more appealing proposal than being stuck in a lovely place, or eating lovely food, or listening to lovely music – however good and agreeable these things may be momentarily.
And this eternal life, this heaven, is not something – Jesus says – that starts when we die, but begins here and now if we want it to.
So, to know God and God’s love, to live life rejoicing in the reflected radiance of God’s love, is what heaven is about. And we can be confident that what we experience of heaven on this earth will be magnified many times over in the next life.
There is no place where God is not. No place where Our Lord Jesus Christ is not. No place where heaven is not – when the eyes of our hearts are open to experience it.
Two Catechisms put it well:
God made me to know him, love him and serve him, and to be happy with him in this world, and for ever in the next. ‘Penny Catechism’ of the RC Church.
By heaven, we mean eternal life in our enjoyment of God. Catechism in the BCP of ECUSA.
It is hard to better these definitions and descriptions of, and pointers to, heaven, eternal life, the destiny to which we are called as the beloved children of God. And we are invited to reflect on this as we celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ.