Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Be Not Afraid....of Heaven

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid ; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. "He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.Matthew 28:5-6

There are a number of instances throughout the Bible when we are encouraged to not be afraid. And of course being afraid is a natural (human) reaction when we are confronted with the supernatural...or as Rudolf Otto aptly described it, "the wholly other." But as I re-read this passage recently, I began to think that there was something more being said here...something larger. As I read this now, and consider this in the context of the rest of the Gospels, I believe God (via the angel) is doing more than simply reassuring the women that they do not need to be fearful in the presence of the angel or be anxious that something happened to Jesus' body. I believe God was telling us (here and now), that we do not need to be afraid of death. Or maybe put more appropriately for our modern thinking, we don't have to be afraid of Heaven.

I think this is why (or at least one of the reasons) Christ appeared so many times after His Resurrection. He wanted to continue telling us, "do not be afraid." (In fact He says this on a couple of occasions when He appears to His disciples.) And He didn't want to simply keep telling us...he wanted to give us the proof. He wanted us to see why the resurrected life...the Eternal nothing to fear. It is not clouds and harps. It is not mist and fog. It is not amorphous wisps and spirits floating in some cosmic soup. No...that is not what the Resurrection is at all. If it was, then I'd be right there with Billy Joel when he says "I'd rather laugh with the sinners, than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun." I mean we've all seen those images of Heaven, now a punchline, of people with wings strumming harps. Or maybe even more frightening, we've heard preachers declare that for all eternity we will worship and praise God in Heaven. Depending on your experiences with various church services...or worship services...this could seem like an unwelcome fate indeed.

But that is exactly what Jesus was trying to reassure us. Heaven...Eternal Life...whatever you want to call our "what's next" not an end of life as we know it. Rather it is the perfection of this life. As Jesus Himself showed us, our Eternal life is about a new body...better suited to our Soul. It is about eating...and about touching...and about interacting. It is about knowing...and being known. It is about living...and loving...and being. We don't lose ourselves...and we are not destined for eternal monotony.

There is no doubt that I am pressing up against a paradox here, but while our life post-resurrection will indeed be wholly different from what it is now, the life we live now is nonetheless a hint of that life...a shadow...or a reflection. This is how C.S. Lewis tried to describe both the connection and the difference between this life ("Old Narnia") and the next ("New Narnia"):

“It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different - deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.” ~ C.S. Lewis

This is what we have in store for us. This is the life Christ is calling us to. And while we can't realize it fully on this side of things, we can begin to taste it...begin to glimpse it. So among the many messages this Easter season, one of the most significant for me is that we need not be afraid of the next stage. So says the angel on Easter morning.