In this Gospel passage and elsewhere, Jesus speaks about our resurrection from the dead as a promise. Jesus speaks like a Pharisee. Pharisees in Jesus’ day believed in bodily resurrection in the “age to come.” That’s about hope for the future, what the church calls “the hope of heaven.” I’ll come back to that. Meanwhile, there’s something unique about Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection. Our resurrection is not just a future event; resurrection is for now. Resurrection informs or reforms how we live today. Saint Paul called it “resurrection power,” in the here and now.[i] Resurrection power. Resurrection is about hope for the future and about power for the present.
In the last 50 years or so, three novelists have captured the imagination of the English-speaking world, and beyond: C. S. Lewis in his Narnia Chronicles, J. R. R. Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, and J. K. Rowling in her Harry Potter novels. All these stories have one theme in common. Power. The exercise of power, the need for power, the source of power. Why the “power” theme has so captured the attention of young and old alike is not because people are powerless. It’s not because these tales give us an imaginary respite from being overwhelmed by the powers that be. It’s much more the opposite of that. Power is of our essence, though many people do not recognize or accept this: their own power. We have been given power.
Carl Jung spoke to this in his writings about the shadow, what he calls “the Golden Shadow.” The Golden Shadow comes from the positive qualities we do not recognize or accept in our own self: our intelligence, our skills, our creativity, our charisma, our eloquence, our beauty, all of which is about our own unique power. If we do not claim our own power we will project our power onto others, and see these “golden” qualities only in others instead of in ourselves. These writers of imaginative fiction, and the producers of so much that appears on television and in the theatre, often capture attention because it’s about power. We have been given power, resurrection power. If you do not own your power you will project your power and watch it in others with fascination or intimidation, or resentment. We have been given power. Power is of your essence. Jesus says endlessly, “Don’t be afraid.” He’s not just talking about not being afraid of bad stuff. Don’t be afraid of good stuff. Don’t be afraid of your own power. When Saint Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” he is claiming both his own powerlessness, and the provision of power that Christ promises us in the here-and-now.[ii] Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of your power.
Remember how Jesus’ disciples, in the face of his crucifixion, abandoned him and went and hid. They were so afraid of the powers that be. And then something happened. In Jesus’ resurrection, the women at Jesus’ tomb, then the disciples… and then so many others, received the resurrection power Jesus promised. None of the external circumstances changed for the better. Things got worse, much worse. Wholesale persecution of Jesus’ followers began, and yet, look what happened. Power. They claimed the power that Jesus promised. Saint Paul, in the worst of times, facing his own imminent sentence of death, wrote, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”[iii]
You have been given access to the power you need for the here and now. I’ll give you a metaphor. This power not like a “booster shot” from your doctor where, at some point in your past you got this surge of power from God and you’re set for life. A booster shot is the wrong metaphor. A better metaphor is a solar panel. You’ve been created with the capacity to receive the light. It’s of your essence. And with that light, God’s light, you have the power to be transformed and to be transforming of others. You have access to power. Be present to that power.
If you were to ask me, “So what kind of power are you talking about?” I would answer with a question, “What kind of power do you need?” Because God is the source of the power you need; God is also the source of your awareness of need. Christ gives us two promises: his presence, and the provision of his power. The doorway to this power will be through your poverty, where you are powerless. You have been given power, resurrection power, in the here-and-now. Don’t just project power; claim it. It’s of your essence. Is there some area of your life where you are powerless? It’s a perfect set-up to take Christ at his word. Resurrection power in the here-and-now. And that’s real.
And then, looking ahead, we speak of resurrection as “the hope of heaven.” What will heaven be like? We have several sources of information:
- We can receive the reports of those who have had “near death” experiences. Their testimonies of the life to come, of heaven, teem with goodness: light, life, love, beauty. It’s all quite amazing, so go these reports. We have these concurring reports.
We can look to the patchwork of scriptures that point to heaven:
- Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you.” That alone may be enormous comfort for those who feel they don’t belong, for those who are lost in life, for those who have lost their home or lost their hope, for those whose experience of life has been hand-me-down. How wonderful that heaven is a place where we are expected, that is being set for our arrival, a place prepared for us where we can belong.
- We read reference to heaven in the Revelation to John: “[Jesus will] wipe every tear from [our] eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”[iv] This is a picture of heaven being a place of ultimate healing. So many people leave this earth ravaged by physical or mental illness, deeply wounded by their family, or friends, or colleagues, or employers, or enemies. How beautiful and hopeful, heaven being a place of ultimate healing.
- We are talking about the resurrection of our bodies, not just the immortality of the soul. Saint Paul writes about our earthly bodies and our heavenly bodies.[v] Rabbinic literature, tracing back to Jesus’ own day, speculates on whether our resurrected body is naked or clothed, reconstituted from dust or repaired, like or unlike a mortal body.[vi] Speculation. If heaven offers us a reunion with our loved ones – I presume so – will my beloved Grandma Anna be 70 years old, and will I be age 4 sitting on her lap, or will she be age 4 sitting in her mother’s lap and me watching? Who’s to say? Age is about time, and time as we know it is a creature. We can only begin to imagine what eternal time is about.
- And then, what about the beauty of heaven? Saint Paul, in a time of enormous suffering, was still in touch with wonder. He writes, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.”[vii] Surely heaven is More. What is good and glorious in this life will surely be more in heaven. I cannot imagine heaven without there being a lake to swim in, without the artwork of Monet, without the music of Brahms, without the story-telling of George Eliot, without the poetry of Mary Oliver, without the dinner parties hosted by my grandmother. A couple of weeks ago someone asked me whether there would be dogs in heaven, his dogs? In return I asked him what he thought? And he said he hoped so. He had tears in his eyes. He said, “I hope so.” And he asked me again what I thought, whether there would be dogs in heaven? Well, I’m a dog lover. How could there not be dogs in heaven, otherwise dogs on earth would have only been a tease. Of course there will be dogs in heaven, I told him. I cannot imagine otherwise. I was not speaking from a text; I was speaking from my heart.
Momentarily we will be invited to pray the prayer Jesus taught us, what we call “the Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus prays: Our father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. “Heaven” was on Jesus’ lips. We can only piecemeal all of what Jesus would have had in mind when he named “heaven,” but it is all for the good.
In the meantime claim the promise and provision of Jesus’ power. Resurrection power. Do you feel powerless in some ways? Perfect! You’re in a perfect place to receive Jesus’ resurrection power now. Saint Paul calls it “Jesus’ strength being made perfect in [your] weakness.”[viii] Claim the power you need, embrace it, and share it with great generosity. God has given you a mission; that’s why you’re still alive today. And then, live in hope, the hope of heaven, which will be glorious. Life on this earth is just a foretaste of the glory of heaven.
[i] Philippians 3:10-11.
[ii] Philippians 4:13.
[iii] Romans 8:35-39.
[iv] Revelation 21:4.
[v] 1 Corinthians 15.
[vi] Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 2nd Edition (2017), p. 349.
[vii] 2 Corinthians 4:17.
[viii] 2 Corinthians 12:9.
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