For many years THE TODAY SHOW had a special annual feature entitled, “Where in the World is Matt Lauer?” Each year, co-host, Matt Lauer would spend a week traveling across the world to exotic locations. Each morning, the camera would open with a “tight shot” focused on Matt with minimal clues as to where he was. He would give a few verbal clues, those in the studio would then try to guess where he was …. and the camera would pull back to give a wide-angle, full screen image of where Matt was on that day. Throughout the show of that day, additional aspects of Matt’s destination were shown — food, culture, history, politics and more —- revealed what life was like in that part of the world.
So, where is this PARADISE where TODAY … the “good criminal” was to join Jesus? Jesus, the firstborn from the dead, responded to the humility and faith of the “good criminal” to promise that he would be — that very “day” — with Jesus in PARADISE.
But wait, that day — Friday — Jesus was not in heaven — he was on his way to heaven. He rose from the dead three days later —– so can there be a belief that Paradise begins at death and reaches complete fulfillment ‘later’. Is this an affirmation of our traditional belief that there is a judgment after death — and then a final judgment at the end of time when Jesus comes to separate the sheep from the goats?
If one hopes that at the end of this reflection there will be a “Google map” leading to paradise or a YouTube video showing what a daily schedule is like in heaven, you will be disappointed. “Eye has not seen — the mind cannot imagine”, what God has in store for those who love him. This was the mistake Israel made — they had a picture of what life would be like after the Savior came — he would establish Israel as ruler of the earth. We await with hope what God has in store for us. Heaven is not on our terms.
But, from our beliefs, we can begin to see beyond the veil of death to affirm that there is life — after life.
1. We become one with who/what we worship. Jesus followed the will of the Father, he completely fulfilled the mission entrusted to him. He embodied the Father who created him. So will we when we embrace his way of being.
If we idolize money, arrogance, power, ruthlessness, “separation from the ‘little people’, then we will live in a cold world without love. Our things, our arrogance, our judgmental nature will keep us away from others in a world of isolation. Those who treat others as pawns, customers, competitors, subjects —- will live in a world where “those people” will no longer be subject to the rules of separation created in this world. The masters will no longer have subjects; the preachers will no longer have a captive audience. The cross they imposed on others will be the cross they carry.
On the other hand, those who have worshipped the God of compassion, who have lived with others as brothers and sisters — who have shown mercy — will live in a world where the cup they have measured with will be used to measure back. The depth of love that has bound these folks together, will not unravel with death.
2. The resurrection of Jesus took place in this world. He revealed himself to his followers in a glorified sense — here on earth. He ate with friends and walked among them. Salvation came to him as a gift from the Father — he was saved from death, rescued from sin. So, too will we. We will not be dis-embodied spirits …. but a risen body, a glorious spirit. Gifted with a glorified body, we like Jesus will still carry our wounds. But, I doubt we will worry about the gimpy knee or the hooked nose. This just will not matter. Our wounds will be badges of honor — as we have overcome the power of death.
“Going to heaven” isn’t our goal or our destination when we die — it is to be raised into, transformed into, the glorious likeness of Jesus.
3. In recent years we seem to have shifted from a sense of harsh judgment that casts the evil into hell —- to a world of universal love where there must be a hell, but it would so hard to get there because of God’s great mercy — back to a world where there must be some form of judgment and hell. How can even God forgive the atrocities of the Holocaust, the Balkans, Rwanda, Darfur?
For those who act so far from what God intends — their “paradise” will be the one they created. . . ugly, dark, mean. The today of death leads to ‘paradise’ that will be permanently established when final judgment occurs. These folks will pass beyond hope and beyond pity.
Is my father watching Astros games and cheering on the Saints. Probably not. Is my mother worrying about us kids? Probably not.
Are my parents happy, smiling, laughing, enjoying life? I would believe so. Can anyone or anything harm them. No. They professed faith in Jesus — lived with him and for him — loved, cared, shared. Will they know even more and fuller joy when Jesus returns and the new heaven AND THE NEW EARTH are created. In faith, I believe so. Just as “working” on a relationship brings more and more joy, so to will we grow infinitely more and more into the person God created us to be — in Him and with Him and through Him.
“Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”
(I owe much of “my” sharing to the work of Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright and his book, “Surprised by Hope: Re-thinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church”)