Heaven Is Love, Not Escape
User's Guide to Sunday, April 24
Sunday, April 24, is the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year C). Mass Readings: Acts 14:21-27, Psalm 145:8-13, Revelation 21:1-5, John 13:31-35
The message of today’s readings is the essential unity of heaven and earth, and the lessons are clear: If you don’t love this world, you won’t love the next. If you can’t find God on earth, you won’t find him in heaven. If you don’t give this life to him, you won’t give your eternity to him either.
Jesus says all of these things over and over in the Gospels, in a variety of ways, but today’s Gospel shows him casting the end of his life in exactly those terms.
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him,” Jesus says, speaking not just of his resurrection, but his death on the cross.
Our life of suffering and hard work on earth is not an inferior life that we hope to escape somehow by going to heaven: Our life on earth is the start of our heavenly life.
The second reading describes heavenly life as life with God. In its great description of heaven, the Book of Revelation says: “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people.”
This is heaven: the place where God is king and we share his life. But that life has already started, Jesus says in the Gospel. It has started when we love one another. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” he says. “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”
It has also started when we accept suffering for God, which is an indication of our love. As the reading from the Book of Acts puts it: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
Only by living a heavenly life here on earth do we find the heavenly life at the end of our lives.
And that life is not a new spiritual life that is different from the life we experience today. The second reading tells us it is a life in which we see “a new heaven and a new earth.”
Heaven will be much like our earthly life, only “he will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain.”
And all that we need to do to immerse ourselves in that world is to immerse ourselves first in this world.
In today’s reading about heaven, Jesus says: “Behold, I make all things new.” Those lines seems out of place when they are put in the mouth of a bloodied Jesus carrying the cross in the movie The Passion of the Christ, but the point it makes is the same point as today’s Gospel.
It is by sacrificing for love in this world that we achieve love in the next; it is by giving our hearts away in this world that we find them in God in the next.
Tom Hoopes is writer in
residence at Benedictine College
in Atchison, Kansas.