What is Heaven?
Feast of the Ascension
Sometimes it’s difficult for highly intelligent people to communicate with those who are a bit dense by comparison. Actually that goes both ways so it creates a communication breakdown. How often we hear Jesus repeatedly trying to get through to his apostles. He explains repeatedly and uses parables that they then ask for an explanation of the explanation! Even on his last day on earth they are still asking about establishing an earthly kingdom in Israel. They haven’t grasped the scope of Jesus mission.
During his three years of teaching, he tells them that the day will come when he will leave them and they ask where are you going that we can’t go with you? I guess they thought he was going off to another town to teach. Even though, by now, they knew he was the Son of God, it hadn’t fully penetrated that he was God. You have to admit the concept of a God-Man is a struggle for many to grasp. In frustration we hear Jesus saying, ‘after all this time you still don’t know the Father! You still don’t believe who I am after all I’ve done in your sight! Jesus must have asked the Father many times how to get through to these poor mortals.
On his last day on earth he leads them out to a place near Bethany and again tells them that he is going away and they cannot come with him because at this time he is going to prepare a dwelling place for them. In his Father’s house there are many dwelling places. They must stay behind and wait for the Promise of the Father. (What promise? What does he mean? they may have thought.) Stay in the city until you are clothed with the power from on High. (another mysterious expression) because you will receive power to be my witnesses when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. (Power? What kind of power? Power to conquer Rome?) I’m sure the apostles were left with many more questions than answers. Then, Jesus was lifted up into the clouds and was seen no more.
For his followers it was a glorious moment but must have also felt like Jesus had died all over again. He was gone! Yet he did promise to come back for them and take them to some special dwelling place. Just for them. We too wait for his return. We know that Christ dwells with the Father in Heaven, that he sits at the Father’s right hand. That position is the place of highest honor in any court. We know that someday he will leave that that seat of glory for the last time and return to bring us each by the hand to go home with him.
As mere humans, this is so difficult to grasp, even though we believe. How often have we tried to wrap our minds around the idea of heaven, the after life, the kingdom to come? We ask, Will I recognize anyone? What does it look like? Where is it? Will my dog be there? So many questions and so few answers. Even the scriptures tell us that eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for us! You just CAN’T imagine it! It is so good! Some people dislike secrets so all this vagueness is really troublesome to them. We want to KNOW. We are no different than the apostles. There was so much they didn’t understand until they were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. We have already received the Spirit and we still struggle.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote that it would be a mistake to interpret the Feast of the Ascension as “the temporary absence of Christ from the world. Rather, we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him. Heaven is a person! Jesus himself is what we call heaven.” (May 2022 Magnificat p. 379)
This exploded my mind when I read it. Heaven is a PERSON? I’ve always thought of it as a place. After all, Jesus said he was going to prepare a dwelling place for us. I pictured my own little castle! How dense to picture it as something material and concrete! Jesus is heaven. He is our dwelling place--in HIM. When we fall in love, we long to be totally one with the other and this is exactly why God created us in the first place--to be totally, completely immersed in Him, in His love, in His person!
My pitiful imagery of this is a child’s nesting toy or those Russian nest dolls. The largest contains the smaller ones. Jesus returned to heaven to be with the Father, in the Father. He draws us into himself at every Communion and finally we will be drawn into him and become one with him in Heaven, nestled tightly into our eternal dwelling place, just like those little nesting dolls. Picture yourself nestled deeply into the heart of God. Safe forever.