I dreamt last night that I was in heaven, and do you know, it was just like my local parish church! Well, there are many views of what heaven is going to be like. What of the wealthy woman, who went to heaven and, as befitted her social standing, was given a conducted tour by a high ranking angel. She knew the verse “in my father’s house are many mansions”, and when they came to one that was particularly grand, she naturally assumed it was intended for her. The angel quickly put her straight: it belongs to your former gardener, he said. “Quite unsuitable,” she exclaimed, “for someone of his social position. He was perfectly happy with the little cottage we gave him. He must be quite out of his depth.” In the grounds of the mansion she espied a poky little house. “Now that would suit him much better” she exclaimed. “Who is it for?” “Oh, that’s for you” replied her guide. “But it is so small, so inferior! I couldn’t possibly live in it!” the wealthy woman said. The angel admitted ruefully that it was sadly lacking, but added “You have to appreciate that the builder has to make do with the materials he is given.”
The truth of the matter is that, like it or not, heaven is not going to be a continuation of life here on earth. Heaven is not going to be like your home town on a Saturday morning, only without the illegal parking and the traffic jams. No, as the song puts it, there are going to be some changes made, and possibly, just possibly, we might end up in the shack in the corner with the leaky roof, and others who in our judgment are far less deserving may be getting the fancy mansion with all modern conveniences.
The 17th Chapter of St John’s Gospel, the great priestly prayer of Jesus, begins with these words, “he lifted his eyes heavenwards and shares the deepest promptings of his heart with his heavenly Father.” We should pay close attention to what he says, with our eyes fixed firmly on heaven and our eternal destiny, but our feet firmly on the ground, for he speaks of the things of heaven, of how it is to be in God’s perfect kingdom.
Jesus prays for three things – unity … glory … love. The human heart longs for all these things, for they speak of fulfillment, of how things are meant to be, of the perfect life of God’s kingdom. Sadly, the reality of life, and our own selfishness and sinfulness so often seem to make them unattainable.
Yet today, and every day, Jesus offers to pour oil on the wounds that separate us from life of heaven, he offers us the chance to start living the life of heaven now. In prayer, in sacrament, through his word, we can receive once more his Holy Spirit who will enable us to cry out: “Abba, Father”. To do this, is to unite our prayer with that of Jesus, is to join our aspirations with his, and to set our feet firmly on the heavenly path. To be truly open to the Spirit will mean that we will know more and more of the life eternal in all its unity and glory and love.
The key is prayer, especially in this key moment. In the Gospels we see Our Lord’s life is undergirded by prayer, yet how often we neglect it. Prayer is not an optional extra for the Christian: we perish if we cease from prayer, as the old hymn puts it. Pray unceasingly, pray in joy, pray in sorrow, pray even when the devil whispers in your ear “There is no God”, and pray above all that the Holy Spirit will come anew into your life to unite you with Jesus.
Fr. Edward Bryant