The Heavenly Banquet?
The Readings for 6th Sunday of Easter (C1)
The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.
If you paid any attention to the passage from Revelation – which probably went uncommented at your Mass so, you had to listen to the readings – there was one sentence that I’ve never noticed before: “The sea was no more.” It’s been there all along, really, but that sentence lept out at me with all its implications: there are no fish, dolphins, etc. in heaven. Now, I have known a long where there are no animals in heaven, but there are those who make a living on the sentimental image of being reunited with all our pets in the afterlife. If heaven is just more of the same, who cares?
But there are no whales in heaven.
Today’s passage says there is no sun – which we all knew. But that means there’s no wind. So… no birds either.
Look: it’s a tough message for a Sunday, but animals don’t have rational souls like humans do. They merit neither eternal life nor eternal damnation. I’m not here to argue it: I’m here to point out our emotional investment in a sentimental image of the afterlife. The shenanigans with “When we die we become angels” and “harps” and dogs running through the clouds to meet us… is because we’re terrified of what “heaven” really is. It’s nothing but God in and through all things in union with us and in union with each other. I don’t have other words for it because I’m no mystic, but heaven is unadulterated communion.
I think that terrifies us more than just a little.
In the abstract, God knowing everything about me is conceivable. It’s more than a little discomfiting (because I know what happens when the lights go out) but it’s conceivable. We say God is omniscient, after all. But you, dear reader, will also know everything about me. And I will know everything about you. Multiply that by billions.
I think heaven makes us a wee bit squeamish, to be honest.
Today’s Gospel doesn’t help: Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. If you’ve “received the Lord Jesus into your heart” then you’ve got the Father and the Holy Spirit in there as well. Jesus says if you love me you will keep… Ok the NABRE has it as “word” and others as “commandments” but in Greek, it’s “Logos”. If you agape me (says Jesus) you will guard my logos. That is, you will hold his very self. His self becomes yourself – as it does in communion. this, more and more, day by day, will make us ready. God, the Holy Trinity, will come to make a dwelling in us. Communion: infinite, unshielded communion.
Sometimes after Mass, I need to run out and commit a mortal sin just to shut that open door in my heart. What would it be like in eternity with that?
So we picture animals in heaven, and a chance to go fishing. We imagine climbing mountains without danger and no longer needing to sit down and take a breather. This is much more comforting but, already asked: if heaven is just more of the same, why bother? Billy Graham once said that perfect happiness (in heaven) would require his beloved dog to be there… and I think Billy might have been worshipping a different God than the one I hope to find in heaven (and in Church, and in my heart).
We’re not yet ready for all that love, not yet ready for eternity.