Romans 8:19, 21-23
For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God… creation itself [will] be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
There is a longing that Paul is talking about here that remains just beyond our ability to fully understand. It is tied up in the mystery of the blessing that we more often think of as a curse. I am talking about death.
Creation itself, St. Paul says, is eager to see the fulfillment of time. Creation itself is eager for the time to come when everything that is wrong will be made for the right. Creation itself is eager, and is even groaning in some mysterious way waiting for heaven to be fully present here on earth.
This will only happen, as St. Paul says, with the redemption of our bodies. With the rejuvenation and reunion of our souls with the glorified body that God has planned for us. But that requires facing death. And it should not be something that is scary for Christians.
I know, the unknown is not something we like to face, and the greatest unknown that any of us will face is what is on the other side of death. But, there is a brand-new book out by Scott Hahn titled “Hope to Die”. (Unfortunately, I have not been able to find it in Spanish.) But I would like to address some of the things he says, given what we have from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans today.
It is in our nature as human beings to enjoy stories. That is why television is so popular, because it tells the stories. Even the news is full of stories. We learn from the earliest days of our life the children’s stories from our parents. And this is one of the things that Dr. Hahn talks about in this book. He says that heaven will be all about hearing everybody’s stories.
But how many children like to hear a story only once? Is not it fun to read or hear stories over and over? How many of you parents have had to put up with reading the same story to your children over and over and over and over, and yet again? The children never get tired of it. How many of you like to listen to a song only once?
This is what Dr. Hahn suggests heaven will be like. It is a guess, but I rather like the idea. And how many billions of stories will there be from all the saints in heaven? We will be able to ask any of the saints to tell us the story. And what a marvelous time that will be. To be able to hear the story of St. Paul on the road to Damascus when he confronts Jesus for the first time and hears him ask “Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
How many stories of your grandparents will you want to hear again? And you will be able to hear, and learn, how your life has touched other lives for all the generations that are yet to live!
To go back to what St. Paul said, creation itself is groaning. Creation is crying out to hear the stories of faith. With the firstfruits of the Spirit that Paul speaks about we are lead to groan and wait and long for what God is going to do when everything of heaven finally is revealed.
It will really be a glorious time! It will be a time that… Well, we should long for, even as we face what is sometimes called the terror of death. But for us, for those who embrace the redemption of Jesus, it is not something we are to fear – nor is it something we are to pursue – but it is something that we should have a longing for if we are genuinely feeling a love for Jesus.
We will have a longing for full complete union with him in the life to come if we simply seek to love him while we are here.
There was a song written a number of years ago by a Christian performer that started with the sounds of an emergency room and someone dying from heart failure. It then becomes very quiet and the man is speaking about his first experience of heaven. He sees and greets his family and friends, but then becomes aware of something that he describes only as “a presence.” He turns around, and for the first time sees Jesus.
He falls to his knees, Jesus grabs him by the hand and lifts him up. But then he hears Jesus speak to him. Jesus says “Many of my followers still on earth are praying that I return you to them. And because of their faithfulness to me, I am inclined to grant the request.”
But the man speaks up and says “Oh Lord, if they only knew the magnificence that I see now, beholding you face-to-face, I know what they would want for me! I know they would want me to remain here with you who are the glory of all that is, you who are the source of love, you who are truly the desire of every human soul. Lord, I know what they would want for me. If they understood, they would want me to be here with you to praise you and to love you.”
It is true, we cannot know – this side of death, this side of the resurrection, what it is going to be like to behold God face-to-face. But because we have the Holy Spirit, these firstfruits of the Spirit that are described in the gifts from him by Paul and by Isaiah, we can have a longing for what we do not yet know.
St. Paul is right. Part of us groans in longing and waiting for the fulfillment of all God’s promises, where he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, where there will be no more crying out in pain, but there will only be the glory of the life of God shining through all of us for all of us to see. And we will get to hear each other’s stories. Amen.