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Bible Reflections View Comments

"All the Way to Heaven Is Heaven"
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, April 7, 2013
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There’s never a shortage of books about the afterlife and near-death experiences. A few of the more prominent books that have emerged recently are Proof of Heaven and To Heaven and Back, both written by doctors, and Heaven Is for Real, by the 4-year-old son of a small-town Nebraska pastor. Such accounts offer solace and inspiration to believers, even while they’re dismissed by skeptics. For all their claims of proof, they end up not really proving anything.

Most of the images we link to heaven have accumulated over centuries by people trying to make sense of this great mystery of Christianity. But it is interesting that the foundational text of our faith doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about what the afterlife will be like. Jesus doesn’t return to his friends and disciples with a vision of heaven and God the Father. He simply encouraged them to go out and continue the work that he had begun. St. Catherine of Siena, no stranger to visions, would say it this way: “All the way to heaven is heaven, because he said ‘I am the Way.’”

We come to Easter each year with experiences that give us new insight into the resurrection narratives in the Gospels. Never has this been more true for me than it is this year. My mom passed away last October. In the last two weeks of her life, we tried everything we could think of to help ease her transition from this life to the next. We told her about the loved ones with whom she would be reunited. We told her she would still be able to watch over us. We talked about Easter and resurrection and the communion of saints. We told her over and over again that God loved her and was waiting to welcome her. Nothing seemed to ease her anxieties. But perhaps the greatest testimony to her faith was that we believed the things we were telling her. She had formed us well.

Today’s reading from John’s Gospel begins in the evening of that first Easter day. Confused, even frightened, by rumors flying through their small group, Jesus’s closest friends and followers are gathered in the upper room where just days before they had celebrated Passover. Like any group of people gathering in the aftermath of a tragedy, they’re consumed with the events that have taken place and the effect those events have had on their emotions.

Then, Jesus is in their midst saying, “Peace be with you.” That’s all. A blessing of deep peace. Three times in the reading he says this. Some things are beyond understanding, beyond figuring out with our rational, problem-solving minds. We know that our emotions can be untrustworthy at times, influenced by so many things. We see in the first appearances after the resurrection that faith transcends both emotions and reason. Faith responds to God’s peace with a simple acknowledgment: “My Lord and my God.” Thomas may have thought he wanted proof, but in the end he didn’t need it.

In the movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Gandalf says to Bilbo, “Well, all good stories deserve embellishment. You’ll have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back.” When Bilbo asks, “Can you promise that I will come back?” Gandalf responds, “No. And if you do...you will not be the same.” This might be the best thing anyone can promise. Our faith in God, and the presence of the Risen Lord in our midst, change us continually. But the Lord’s gift to us through all these changes is always divine peace.


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Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus: The actions of these two influential Jewish leaders give insight into the charismatic power of Jesus and his teachings—and the risks that could be involved in following him.
<p><b>Joseph</b> was a respected, wealthy civic leader who had become a disciple of Jesus. Following the death of Jesus, Joseph obtained Jesus' body from Pilate, wrapped it in fine linen and buried it. For these reasons Joseph is considered the patron saint of funeral directors and pallbearers. More important is the courage Joseph showed in asking Pilate for Jesus' body. Jesus was a condemned criminal who had been publicly executed. According to some legends, Joseph was punished and imprisoned for such a bold act.
</p><p><b>Nicodemus</b> was a Pharisee and, like Joseph, an important first-century Jew. We know from John's Gospel that Nicodemus went to Jesus at night—secretly—to better understand his teachings about the kingdom. Later, Nicodemus spoke up for Jesus at the time of his arrest and assisted in Jesus' burial. We know little else about Nicodemus.
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