The hope of heaven



Ephesians 1


English: Cross in the village of Úsilné, České...

English: Cross in the village of Úsilné, České Budějovice District, Czech Republic with the writing ‘Blessed be the Lord Jesus Christ’. Česky: Křížek v obci Úsilné v okrese České Budějovice s nápisem ‘Pochválen buď Pán Ježíš Kristus’. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.


The first words out of the mouth of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark are “The time has come.  The kingdom of God is near.”  It is the central message of Jesus.  God has drawn near to restore God’s governance of human life.  Jesus’ healings are signs of that dawning reign, for where God governs sin and disease and demons cannot.


This notion of the reign of heaven dawning on earth contrasts with the typical notion of heaven as the place you go when you leave behind this mortal coil.  The scriptures speak of ‘the heavens’ as the dome of the sky, the abode of God from whence God watches over the affairs of earth and sends his messengers to and fro.  And while the scriptures declare that nothing can separate us from the love of God and the visions of Revelation picture the martyrs at the throne of God, that image of the gathered saints is but a prelude to God’s ultimate purpose of restoring the world to himself.  The New Jerusalem is not on the clouds; it is on earth.  “Heaven” is a time, not a place; in front of us, not above us.  The Biblical vision is about resurrection, not immortality.


It doesn’t quite fit with our commonplace notion of a soul that is separate from the body.  The creed affirms faith in the resurrection of the body.  Jesus’ soul doesn’t go up to heaven after his death, something else happened, something we can’t quite comprehend or even imagine, but something that involved a body.  He ate with his followers.  He invited Thomas to touch the wounds.  He wasn’t held back by locked doors, but walked to Emmaus and cooked fish on a fire by the sea of Galilee.  Whatever it is that happened to Jesus perfected creation not abandoned it.


This idea of the resurrection of the body follows from God’s declaration that all creation is good.  Salvation, healing, wholeness, God’s ultimate purpose for us, doesn’t mean escape from our bodies; it means deliverance for them.  They are no longer bound by infirmity and disease, no longer bound by unclean spirits, no longer bound by sin and shame.  Tears are wiped away.  A feast is celebrated.  People and animals no longer devour one another.  Salvation involves love and laughter and song and dance.  Salvation includes rich foods and fine wine.  Salvation is pictured as a wedding feast that has no end.  Humanity is united with God like a bride to her groom.


This is our inheritance.  This is what Jesus willed to us in his last will and testament: a new covenant, when every debt that separates us from God is lifted away; when the will of God is written in the heart; when no one must be taught the way of God, the way of love; when God’s own Spirit guides and governs us all.


This is our inheritance.  This is the victory won in Christ.  And even now the table is set for us.  Even now the Spirit is available to us.  Even now the life of the age to come is open to us; even now we are able to draw on that inheritance of life made whole.


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