Thoughts of Heaven

There are times when our thoughts naturally turn to heaven. The recent Easter season is one of those times, as we are reminded of the resurrection and our hope of eternal life. We also tend to think about heaven a great deal whenever a loved one passes from this life. We wonder what they are experiencing in their new spiritual home, and we take great comfort in our faith that their soul lives on in the presence of the Lord.

Of course, we actually know very little about heaven. And we aren’t sure if what we do know is literal or metaphorical. Such has been the case every since Jesus said he was going there to prepare a place for us. Concepts of heaven have changed over the centuries, and they often reflect the culture and needs of believers at the time.

The cover story in the April 16, 2012, issue of Time Magazine is “Rethinking Heaven”. I recommend that you read it. Readers are not likely to agree with all that is included there, but the article includes much to learn and ponder. It points out that “In earliest Christianity, the understanding of life after death was, like so much else in the young faith, the product of both classical pagan and Jewish thought and custom.” It goes on to explain that many of today’s concepts of heaven and hell originated in the art and literature of the middle ages. I was also struck by the author’s statement that “In the more prosperous 20th century, heaven became a kind of glorious Disney World … a place where the redeemed were rewarded with the type of riches they had sought in life.” Christian views of heaven have evolved over the years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are any more accurate or meaningful today than they were in the first century.

I remember hearing a phrase when I was growing up in the church: “He is so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good.” I know that this sentiment isn’t necessarily Biblical, but we all know what it means. N. T. Wright, a former Anglican bishop wrote that “Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden dimension of our ordinary life – God’s dimension, if you like.” Whatever we may imagine heaven to be, we need to remember that heaven is where God is now, the earth is where we are now, and the two overlap and interlock according to God’s design and plan.

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Fish on Friday

Today being Good Friday, I was intrigued by a posting from National Public Radio entitled “Lust, Lies and Empire: The Fishy Tale Behind Eating Fish On Friday”.  Check it out at

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/04/05/150061991/lust-lies-and-empire-the-fishy-tale-behind-eating-fish-on-friday?sc=fb&cc=fp

The Value of Tradition

Much of today’s Christian worship is based on traditions that have developed over the centuries.  The authors of Pagan Christianity? have documented the pagan origins of many of those traditions, and then conclude that Christians really need to go all the way back to the example of the first century church in order to worship “correctly”.  I’m not so sure about that.

Regardless of the origins of our Christian traditions, I believe that most of them have an underlying value that is still meaningful today.  My attention was drawn to this topic last Sunday, when I had opportunity to watch the televised Palm Sunday service at Saints Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, Arizona.  The service was a high Mass (more formal than the normal weekly Mass), and was led by Bishop Olmsted of the Phoenix Diocese.  The Mass included corporate prayer, the reading of scripture, singing, communion, and an excellent homily (sermon) on the last words that Jesus spoke from the cross.

There were also numerous activities that would seem odd, maybe even distracting, to a worshipper who is unfamiliar with the Catholic Mass.   The Mass has changed some in recent years, but still follows the same basic forms and traditions of Christian worship that go back to the middle ages.  Some of those practices are intended to demonstrate reverance for Christ and the Bible and for Holy Communion.  Others are included because they are remembrances of Christ and his sacrifice.  We need to remember that for many centuries the typical worshipper was uneducated and illiterate.  The liturgy that was repeated every Sunday was a form of instruction in the basics of the Christian faith.  It can still be a good reminder for us today.

As with any traditions that are practiced repeatedly, worship traditions can become so familiar and automatic that they lose their spiritual value in our lives.  Then we may be tempted to abandon them as worthless.  We may even go so far as to declare them “pagan” and offensive.  But if we really pay attention, and think “why am I doing this?” at each point in the church service, we may find a new appreciation for some Christian traditions that have been meaningful and instructive for many generations of believers.

For those of you who don’t normally attend a church with a formal liturgical worship tradition, I recommend that you visit one soon.  I think it will enrich your appreciation of the “church of our fathers”.