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Heaven Is First of All Here

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Incarnation: Week 2

Heaven Is First of All Here
Wednesday, January 20, 2016

It is no accident that Luke’s resurrection account in the Gospel has Jesus saying, “I am not a ghost! I have flesh and bones, as you can see” (Luke 24:39). To Thomas, Jesus says, “Put your finger in my wounds!” (John 20:27). In other words, “I am human!”—which means to be wounded and yet resurrected at the same time. Jesus returns to his physical body, and yet he is now unlimited by space or time and is without any regret or recrimination. That Jesus’ body still carries his wounds is telling and important symbolism. It was quite a feat to communicate the full message in such a subtle and refined way, which is precisely the power of symbol and story. “Our wounds are our glory,” as Lady Julian of Norwich puts it. This is the utterly counterintuitive message of the Risen Jesus.

The major point is that Jesus has not left the human sphere; he is revealing the goal, the fullness, and the purpose of humanity itself, which is “that we are able to share in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), even in this wounded and wounding world. Yes, resurrection is saying something about Jesus, but it is also saying a lot about us, which is even harder to believe. It is saying that we, like him, are larger than life, Being Itself, and therefore something good, true, and beautiful. Our code word for that is heaven.

When we take the resurrection symbol and its meaning absolutely seriously, it moves us far beyond the stripped-down literal meaning where both atheists and fundamentalists flounder. I do believe in the “bodily” resurrection of Jesus—or my basic premise of body and spirit being one does not stand! (Please tell that to any of your friends who think I am a liberal heretic. I am actually quite orthodox.) But resurrection does not just mean an eternally enduring life in the future; rather, it first means “a present life of eternal significance.” Surely it means a life of goodness and love, both of which have an eternal quality to them. For many of us, it is a life of  “divine adoption,” to use Paul’s phrase, whereby we all fully share in Jesus’ divine inheritance as “heirs of the same promise” and true brothers and sisters on the great journey Jesus also walked.

I am so saddened that much of Christian history has read these same metaphors, yet seems to have had so little inner experience to trust that it could really be true—and true for them.  We believed in resurrection in Jesus but not in ourselves. Once you know there is an implanted and positive direction to creation, you can go with the primary flow (faith); eventually you will learn to rest there (hope); and you can actually live this outflowing life with gracious trust (love). You are at home both here and forever. What else could salvation be? Heaven is first of all now—and therefore surely later. If God loves and accepts us now in our broken state, why would the divine policy change after death? It is the same God before and after our death. Why not jump on this wonderful bandwagon and enjoy heaven now—without fear? Salvation for me, and for many of the early Eastern Fathers of the Church, was not a question of if—but only a question of when—and how much you want it. As Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions, and I have gone ahead to prepare a place for you. . . . I shall return to take you with me so that you may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). God, that’s good!

Gateway to Silence:
God in me sees God who is also beyond me.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 85-86, 90.

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