Does heaven exist? Both popular opinion and current theology respond affirmatively to the question. Belief in eternal life is widespread in our culture, though attention to related questions such as limbo and purgatory have mostly disappeared. Our attempts to describe the geography and architecture of heaven have also diminished appreciably. Some theologians say that attempts to describe the details of heaven necessarily result in caricature or cartoon.
What is this feast of Easter and the popular belief in heaven and eternal life about? This holy day is about trust in God, hope in God, confidence in God – all of which center on God's love and mercy. As did Jesus, so also we, his disciples, believe that God will not allow the apparently victorious forces of evil and death to prevail. No! God prevails! And God is Life, abiding Love, eternal Joy. We believe we are in God's care and we will share that for eternity. We don't need to know now the details of that eternity. Rather we simply believe with Jesus that our Abba God is in charge and will provide. We say with Jesus, “Abba, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
This Easter is about the paschal mystery which in turn refers to the passage of all living things through death to new life. This paschal mystery is at work in all the painful moments of life that contribute to our growth and development. It is present in the little deaths that improve and enrich our lives as well as the lives of those we love. We see these dynamics at work in all genuine love and in repentance from sin. The paschal mystery is most obvious at the end of our physical lives on earth. The model for our passage always remains Jesus, the One who through the power of God is victorious over sin, suffering and death.
Glimmers of Christ's resurrection and ultimately our own already shine through for us here and now: the birth of a newborn baby, reconciliation with a family member or friend, the discovery of a new, genuine love, observance of nature's repeated cycle of fertility. These and other events mirror our own ultimate resurrection and life in abundance.
The “space” taken up by heaven is not the original Eden nor the kingdom of God within us nor some earthly paradise. Rather it is all three of these and more. Heaven is an enveloping reality in which we Christians already participate through the Eucharist Meal. Heaven is not dull, boring or static. On the contrary, it is an endless dynamic of joy in which one is totally and unabashedly engrossed.
The feast of Easter floods us with hope, confidence and meaningfulness. In that sense, we never die! Dying is the threshold we pass through on our trajectory to the abundant life promised us. We rejoice this Easter – it is the celebration of the reality of a future with our Abba God, the promise of which brightens every moment we presently have.