Sunday, 30 October 2016

Home

This sermon was preached on 30th October 2016, at our evening All Souls service; the service in which we think of, and pray for, those who have died. The Gospel reading was John 14:1-6,27.
 
Have you ever wondered what Heaven will be like? Whether it’s all ‘flowing white robes’, and sitting on clouds playing harps? Does that sound a bit boring to you? It does to me, to be honest.

It’s one of the questions we sometimes ask each other; “What’s heaven for you?”. We recognise that what one person enjoys, another might not, and that each of us has their own idea of paradise.

Is this home your idea of paradise?
 Jesus was asked the question too – just before our Gospel reading this evening, Peter asked him where he was going, and we heard his reply tonight. Christ, the itinerant preacher, with no place to lay his head, replies, “I’m going to my Father’s house – a mansion, with many rooms.

For Christ, who had no home on earth, Heaven was a home, large enough to hold everyone.

Tonight, we think of those who have died, who no longer have a home here on earth, but who are – we, as Christians, believe – living fully in the presence of God, in that metaphorical mansion, with Christ, their – and our – hope and redeemer.

It makes us nervous, if we’re honest, to think about those who are dead. To think about our own death – for nothing is more certain than the fact that we will, one day – as Hamlet put it in his famous soliloquy – shuffle off this mortal coil. We will all die.

It is natural, then, to question it. To wonder ‘what if’ and ‘what next’. In a 2015 survey, 15% of the UK population said that they believed Heaven definitely existed. A further 36% said it probably existed, or they were unsure.

I imagine we’re all here this evening because we’re in that group. Perhaps not that 15% who are sure of Heaven’s existence, but a part of that 36%, who hope in our heart of hearts that it’s true; who hope that there is a life after death, who hope that we will be reunited there with our loved ones, and be with them once again.

C S Lewis said that this hope – this desire – for Heaven (amongst other desires that cannot be fulfilled here on Earth) is proof of Heaven’s existence in itself – the real desire for Heaven, he says,
is present in us [but] we do not recognize it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. . . . If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

I believe that. We are migrants in this land – our citizenship is not British, or European, or even Earthly. We are, as Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, citizens of heaven – and that home is where our hearts long to return. We do not know what it will be like, but, at the same time, in our heart, we do. The American Archbishop, Cardinal Bernardin died of pancreatic cancer in 1996. Shortly before his death, he wrote the following words:
Many people have asked me to tell them about heaven and the afterlife. I sometimes smile at the request because I do not know any more than they do. Yet, when one young man asked if I looked forward to being united with God and all those who have gone before me, I made a connection to something I said earlier in this book. The first time I travelled with my mother and sister to my parents’ homeland of Tonadico di Primerio in northern Italy, I felt as if I had been there before. After years of looking through my mother’s photo albums, I knew the mountains, the land, the houses, the people. As soon as we entered the valley, I said, ‘My God, I know this place. I am home.’ Somehow I think crossing from this life into life eternal will be similar. I will be home.
What will heaven be like? Christ knew. Our dispossessed deity, with no home on earth tells us. He knows that our true heart’s desires are unfulfillable in this life – and that points us to our hearts’ heavenly origin. He knows that we, like him (with no place to lay his head), will never find complete rest here on Earth, without our loved ones gone before. We know – we have a sure and certain hope – that one day, we will join our loved ones – and our God – in that mansion; that house with many, many rooms.

One day, we will be home.

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