As It Is In Heaven
(2Macc.7:1-2, 9-14; 2Thess.2:16-3:5; Lk.20:27-38)
Some say that there are two kinds of people in this world – those who believe in heaven, and those who don’t.
Jesus, of course leads the first group, but in Biblical times, the Sadducees belonged to the second. They were a small Jewish group who refused to believe in an afterlife.
In today’s Gospel, when some Sadducees see Jesus in the Temple, they challenge him with a hypothetical question: whose wife would a woman be if she marries each of seven brothers, one after the other, after each one dies? [i]
They believe that God’s Law, as given to Moses, cannot be broken, and that God would never create anything that contradicted his own Law. So, by their reasoning, God could not have created an afterlife, because it would simply undermine the sanctity of marriage.
Jesus gives them two answers. Firstly, he says that marriage is an earthly institution blessed by God, and it doesn’t exist in heaven.
And secondly, he says that Moses learnt about the resurrection before he received the Law from God. That was when he first encountered God in the Burning Bush, and God said to him ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’ (Ex.3:4-6).
Jesus’ point is that because God is the God of the living, and God of the patriarchs, then the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – must still be alive. For God is a ‘living’ God and only the living can experience something that lives. The patriarchs, therefore, are still alive and heaven is real.
We affirm this belief for ourselves every time we recite the Creed and say ‘I believe in the… resurrection of the body and life everlasting.’
So what do we know about heaven? Not too much, unfortunately. That’s probably because, as St Paul says, the nature of heaven is beyond our human comprehension. ‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’ he says (1 Cor 2:9).
However, we do know some things. For example, life in heaven is different to life here on earth, because there’s no more death or decay, or suffering or pain (Rev.21:4), and heaven is a place of eternal rest and peace (Heb.4:9).
And as Jesus says today, there’s no marriage, but this doesn’t mean that we’ll lose our family and friends. Rather, our relationships will be different as everything will centre around a close communion with God, who is love itself.
You might remember that shortly before he was crucified, Jesus sensed his disciples’ fear and said to them, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled… trust in me… I’m going on ahead to prepare a place for you… There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house’ (Jn.14:1-3).
Jesus has prepared a home for all his disciples in heaven, but this is more than just somewhere to live. It’s actually our real home (Heb.13:14), our permanent home, unlike our temporary dwellings here on earth. And this home will be the fulfilment of our deepest desires, for as St Augustine wrote: ‘You made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts remain restless until they rest in you.’ [ii]
Some people wonder if heaven might be boring. They fear that it might be just a wispy, ethereal place where people sit on clouds, chanting or playing harps all day long. But remember that in his first letter, St John says that we ‘shall see God as he is’ (1Jn.3:2).
This is significant, because God is the foundation of all wisdom, knowledge and understanding, and the source of all being. He is our Creator, and seeing him will give us the greatest possible happiness. We’ll find ourselves both excited and fulfilled by the extraordinary sights, and insights, that God will reveal to us.
In his book The Imitation of Christ, Thomas á Kempis wrote, ‘Happy is the person who always keeps the hour of death in mind, and daily prepares for it.’
So how might we prepare for it?
Richard Rohr says the simplest way to answer that question is by asking what’s happening in heaven. And what is happening in heaven is communion, unity and family. ‘Lord, your will be done on earth as it is happening in heaven.’
Rohr makes the point that God’s love in heaven is all about perfect union, and union and communion are what God is trying to achieve here on earth. ‘God is not creating religion and righteousness,’ he says. ‘God is creating unity.’
That’s why Jesus’ basic rules for the kingdom are about forgiveness, reconciliation, healing and communication.
‘Those who are capable of union and communion are capable of God,’ he says. [iii]
So, that’s how we prepare for heaven.
[i] To explain, this practice of a man marrying his brother’s widow comes from the Torah (Deut.25:5-6). It’s called the Levirate Law of Marriage (From the Latin word ‘levir’, meaning brother or brother-in-law), and its purpose was to ensure that widows are looked after and that the first husband’s name lived on after him.
[ii] St Augustine, Confessions, Penguin Books, London, 1961:21
[iii] Richard Rohr, What the Mystics know. Crossroad Publishing, NY. 2015:99.