One day, my name will be read on All Saints Day.
I know that as my name is read, my body will have been turned to ashes, and the ashes will be in the sea and scattered. But my soul – the essence of what and who I am – will be in heaven.
Now most of us are afraid of death – we fear the pain and the uncertainty and for some of us we worry about the financial burdens a long illness and slow death might leave on our family. Being afraid of death is natural and expected.
Comedian Woody Allen said it best when he said, “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens to me.”
But beyond our moment of death – have you ever given any thought toward that? What happens when we die and go to heaven? What is heaven like?
First, Heaven is a place beyond our ability to comprehend. What we would like is a travel brochure or a map or some photographs to show us exactly what heaven is like – but we don’t have that. We cannot conceive of heaven.
I can conceive of the distance of 10 miles, but I when I think of a million miles? That’s beyond my ability to comprehend.
I can understand having a credit card debt of $100. But a national debt of trillions of dollars? Between a trillion and a billion I can’t conceive.
To imagine heaven? That is impossible. And the reason it is impossible to comprehend is because it is so much better than anything we have experienced.
I’ve had a good life – I can even imagine it getting a little bit better -- but Heaven is so far, far better than any of my experiences that I simply cannot conceive with my limited imagination what it is like.
The Bible tells us what Heave is like in I Corinthians 2:9, which says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
Second, having said that Heaven is beyond comprehension, we can say that it is a place of joy. We might not be able to fully comprehend how much joy there is, but we can say that heaven is a place of joy. In heaven there will be no disappointment or pain. Death will be no more. Sorrow and sighing will flee away (Isaiah 51:11). The Bible teaches us time and again about the joy of heaven, and no where is this more clearly stated than in Revelation, when it is said that God will “wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
But this is not to say that heaven will be a dull place. Heaven will be interesting and exciting because we will never stop growing spiritually and intellectually. We will understand things in new ways, for Paul in I Corinthians says this: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
What is heaven like? Heaven is a place of fellowship. Many people have expressed concern to me about whether they will know their loved ones in heaven. Everything in Scripture points to the reality that we will know each other, and even know each other better than we do now. Paul described Heaven in one of his New Testament books by saying, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that we will not know one another.
Jesus told the interesting story of a rich man and a beggar-man named Lazarus. Lazarus went to heaven after his death, and the rich man ended up in hell. The story describes how Lazarus recognized the Old Testament man, Abraham, even though he had never seen him in life.
I know that when I die I will see my sisters, my parents, my grandparents, my friends who died before me.
The final point about Heaven is that we should not be anxious about it. We should have faith and trust in God. Death is a difficult process, filled with fear of pain and the unknown, but for the faithful, these fears should not be related to whether or not there is a heaven or about what heaven is like.
Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going. . . . I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-6).
We read a long list of names this morning. We had many other names we listed who were not members of this Chapel by the Sea, but were members of our families or who were our neighbors or friends.
One day, my name will be read on All Saints Day. So will your name. But I do not let my heart be troubled. I trust in God, because I know that a place has been prepared for me in God’s joyful, incomprehensible heaven.
Copyright 2011, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
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