I’ve often thought, and taught, that Jesus’ teaching was much more into the Kingdom of Heaven, which starts now for all who will enter it, through faith, repentance, and being “born again” (John 3: 3) than it was about the importance of “going to heaven” (rather than the other place) when we die.
While that is true, it would be a mistake that for Jesus, Heaven as a future destiny was not important. This Word to the repentant thief on the cross is evidence:
“Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise” ( Luke 23: 43)
Here I sit, watching through my window a white haired neighbor
walking his dog, another one guiding her little girl into the car,
while two squirrels play tag high up in the trees,
where sparrows and starlings flit about,
delightfully teamed up to play and look for food.
These are gentle hints of a zone, a kingdom without end,
even if there are no dogs or trees or squirrels or birds there.
where young or old who’ve gone before
seem swallowed up upon Jesus’ lap,
with Mother Mary’s hand upon their shoulder,
while old veterans of “this vale of tears” sing
Rockin’ my soul in the bosom of Abraham.
As I reflect some more, I think of my grandparents, dying in their nineties,
Or my parents, reaching 100 and 102: Will I see them again?
Or is this life all there is?
If so, I’d better search hard and find something in the here and now
to cling to, even though “all flesh is grass. . .
And the grass withers, the flowers fade.”*
No. Don’t allow me Lord, to run some place,
where the Grim Reaper will not chase; I am content.
I’ve sensed, beyond this time and space,
an eternal dance going on outside my tent.**
And I can imagine three souls looking at life,
not dancing about but slipping away, in untold agony.
One is mocking, challenging the Lord,
the second trying to escape old death’s embrace
with “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”
The One in the middle is reassuring him, and us all,
with “You’ll be in paradise, today.”
It’s hard to believe, Lord. Give us grace. HPK
*See Psalm 103 **Cf. 2 Cor. 5:1
Incidentally, the enormous research (8 million + reports) done on “Life After Life” experiences, by Raymond Moody, Ph.D, and M.D. and many others, supports the idea that there’s something in us which will survive physical death: there are countless reports of people whose brain waves and ECG’s have flat lined, and have even been thought dead, but who go through a long tunnel, experience a loving presence, a “being of light, and relatives who’ve gone before, plus incredibly beautiful scenes. And while they’re gone, they still observe what’s going on down below, even being able to recount in accurate detail the doctors’ efforts to save them. By the way, the loving Presence typically will tell the person it’s time to return to their body, even though they’d much prefer to stay in heaven.
After the NDE (near-death-experience), the survivor typically reports that the fear of death has disappeared, and they have a much greater love for life, experiences, other people, and live more creatively. Perhaps that’s because they experienced their Source, who is Love! Even though their experience with this Presence (usually, but not for everyone seen as Jesus) compels them to carefully evaluate their whole life, they don’t feel condemned, but forgiven. Which leads me to another Word:
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23: 34)
I wonder if Jesus would have forgiven them, if He thought they did know what they were doing?
But if all sin is a form of insanity, maybe it’s a moot point.
The important point that Christ’s love was so great that even the enormous pain of the cross could not keep him from expressing it, and praying for his enemies.
And giving us a prayer we can borrow when we have difficulty loving and praying for and forgiving some enemy, someone who’s hurt us, years ago or yesterday.
We can even borrow it when we need to pray to forgive—ourselves.
It is forgiveness which ties these two powerful words from the Cross together, and us to our Lord, to ourselves, and to each other.