Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Heaven

August is the cruelest month.  This isn't really the quote, but for my family, August has been the month of leave-taking from this earth.  This week marks the death-days of both my parents, Mom's today just a year ago, and Dad's five days from now--can it really be fourteen years since he first breathed the fresh air of heaven?  So it should come as no surprise that I'm feeling slightly nostalgic week.

But not perhaps nostalgic for my childhood, which was as sweet and good as a childhood in a small, university town can be in the carefree years in which I lived, where we never had to lock our doors, and I ran bare-foot and free from the day school was let out in June until it began the day after Labor Day, with only the chores my mother imposed to blight those sunny days. 

I'm thinking more today about heaven than my own past, which I tend to run on about anyway, and I suppose you get sick enough of.  I can only say so much about my own past. In a way, I suppose the same is true of heaven, since all any of us know is told from those God has spoken to in dreams and visions.  Perhaps those with near-death and all-the-way-dead experiences, if one is inclined to believe in them.  I have no strong opinion about them myself.  I know that God will meet us the moment we breath our last breaths here, so I have no doubt that anyone whose heart has stopped, only to have it started again, has had Him shake their hands for a moment. Give them a quick hug then send them back.  I believe He can do this.  Whether that moment will come with a blaze of light remains to be seen.  By each of us who calls Him Lord, I dare say. About the rest? Only He knows.

But what I do know is that He cares about our four-score-and-then-some. And I find more comfort in the pattern He sets up for the Israelites, in their days of festival and celebrations, of working and worship and taking time out than I do the rather hard-to-comprehend visions of the dreamers, as breath-taking as they are in places.  Yes, I love the thought that worship goes on twenty-four hours a day, without ceasing.  But that He teaches His people how to take time off to do just that, to worship, to be community at rest, to party, to remember--this is compelling in terms of thinking of heaven.

What is stunning is that even though they had turned their backs on Him, He still kept His covenant to them, and created a "People for His Name."  They didn't, with all those holy days, feasts, sabbaths, years of jubilee, and rules, keep their HEARTS holy.  They turned their backs on God.

And He knew this would be the case.  He said: 'I'll give you all this--everything you need: the festivals, the daily regulations, the protection, the mandates for success, the vision for the land, the history to encourage--and still you'll turn away.  You'll start dancing to idols at the very moment I'm still speaking in a cloud on a mountain above you.  You'll complain and whine and complain about what I haven't done for you.  Yet I won't give up on you.  I'll never, ever give up on you.  I'll make a way for you to come to me.   Because I chose you.  I chose you for me.  A people for my name."

It's an amazing story, this story of our way to heaven.  It started so long before that baby was born in Bethlehem, and we forget that.  We think Jesus was the beginning of the story. And we think the resurrection is the way up to Him. But we always had a way to Him.  He was NEVER going to give up on us.  Jesus is only His final solution.  His magna opus, so to speak.

So I'm thinking of all this today.  This story that goes much farther back than my own history, or farther back than the history of Christianity. Even back beyond the people wandering in the desert, if we get right down to it. The moment Eve reached out her hand for that piece of fruit, God had this way back to Himself in place.  He was always at the ready.

And I'm thankful that my parents were each greeted, whole and finally holy, when they left their bones and body on this earth.  When their days of sin were gone.  Isn't that an amazing thought?  It isn't only our bodies we'll leave but our sin as well?  I may not know what Heaven will be, but I know two things:  Jesus will be there, and there will be no more sin.  And that's enough for me.

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