Acts 17: 22 “Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.’.” …..and he had their attention!
Paul was at the equivalent of Speakers’ Corner in Athens, pitching for Jesus, and he got quite a hearing ~ people could relate to the ethics of what Jesus was about ~ until he got to the Resurrection, when they left to go to the pub or café, or to return to work, on the assumption that he was self-evidently round the bend. Where does that leave us?!
I want to talk to you this morning about the Resurrection life of Heaven:
A flock of sheep are grazing in a field, happily going “baa baa” to each other and discussing life as usual when suddenly they hear a “moo mooooooooooooooooooo!”
They look around and see only sheep. They carry on grazing as before.
“Moooooo mooooooooooo mmmoo!”
One sheep can hear it very clearly. She approaches the noisemaker.
“Why are you mooing?” she asks. “You’re a sheep. Sheep go ‘baa!'”
The reply, “I know, but I thought I would learn a foreign language!”
We talk the language of death and suffering easily ~ that language is not foreign to us; but resurrection is beyond our experience, so we have no adequate language and concepts to cope with it.
Surely, the most difficult thing about Resurrection is that, try as we might, we just can’t carefully categorise and control it. It takes us beyond the comfort-zone of our everyday experience, and beckons us to dip our toes into the feisty waters of Heaven, which will be recognisable, but also vastly better than we could ever have dreamed.
I’m reminded of the old joke about a butterfly winging its way, one Spring-time, past two caterpillars crawling along a twig. As the butterfly passed them, one caterpillar looked up, disdainfully, and was heard to say to the other: “You’ll never get me up in one of those things!”
The joke, of course, is that neither caterpillar could know that ‘to be a butterfly’ was, indeed, the next stage of their existence ~ after a death-like chrysalis stage. As far as we know, caterpillars have no knowledge that they are destined to soar and hover as beautiful butterflies; all they know is crawling.
Because of that unexpected transformation, butterflies are symbols of a new life that is hard to see.
Why is the resurrection hard to see?
Because it is more real than the world within which we have learned to live and to observe. Imagine yourself ~ lying paralysed on a bed in a small, dark sickroom. One day your nurse pulls back a blind that has covered a skylight in the ceiling, through which light rushes in. It tells you that there is another world, from your sickroom, out there ~ a world of sun, of fresh air, movement, growing plants. You can see none of them; but the light streaming into your room brings that whole unseen world vividly into your awareness. It is the world ‘out there’, beckoning you, though you cannot fully see it, which will renew, refresh and heal you, and make you fully part of its vibrant life.
Or ~ let’s try it another way:
Perhaps we are like children, developing in the womb of the life to come, children who are not yet ready for birth. Like the human foetus we once were, we cannot imagine any other kind of life. We are secure in the warmth and dark of our little world. From it, we receive our nourishment and are content. Within it, we stretch and kick and think we have perfect freedom of movement. We share our mother’s life and fancy we know all about relationships. All this time, we have been growing lungs without even taking breath, eyes, without dreaming what sight means; legs, with not a clue about walking. We are equipped for horizons far beyond, and do not even know that we have the equipment. When the hour of our birth comes, we will liken it to ‘dying’, because it will be the end of the life we know, and we shall be sent out into the unknown.
“The individual existence stands, suddenly awake and free, on the frontier of the whole of reality. God himself stretches out his hand so that we might allow ourselves to be carried along and flow on into eternal fulfilment”
Seen this way, entering Heaven is a joyful self-abandonment to going with the flow of God, and this world is a place where we can form the habit of doing that. And Austin Farrer writes: “Like it or not, Heaven is also other people … it is God in other people, just as much as it is God in you! To be in Heaven is to delight, without a barrier, in the company of a thousand friends!”
Now, that, I believe, and hope, is our destiny! It is a destiny not just for the life to come, but to break-through and transform the here and now.
So, if you see a caterpillar today, give thanks for the glory of God that awaits you, in the company of others, for all eternity ~ and practice, in your dreams, soaring like a butterfly!
“If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is.” “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…. Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” +