Heaven must be a fabulous place

A homily in memoriam of David Patrick Lenz

Gospel Lesson: John 14:106

Heaven must be a fabulous place.

Seriously.  It must be.  I haven’t actually been there, but all the evidence that I have tells me with absolutely certainty that when my day arrives and my friend David greets me…along with so many other of my beloveds…it is going to be an absolutely fabulous, beyond the pale celebration of the power of love and the divine spark of the radiant Holy Spirit. This, I believe, with all of my heart and soul.

Maybe you’re a little skeptical of that statement, and maybe it seems like, if I’m standing up beneath the preacher-crusher wearing this stole and collar, it means I’m supposed to tell you that.  I’m not just saying that because I’m all fancied up in what some of my friends have been known to call “priest drag” although I did choose this particular stole for David, I admit.  I’m not trying to convince you because I’ve been to seminary or because I’ve been a Hospice chaplain or because the ordination conferred upon me has given me some secret knowledge of the specific nature of the afterlife that others don’t have.  None of those are the reasons why I’m here, in this place, preaching this particular aspect of the Good News today. 

I’m just here to offer you some words from my heart.

Heaven must be a fabulous place. I wouldn’t say that unless I believed it was true, from the depths of my heart and my soul.  So let me share, just for a few minutes, what evidence I have of the veracity of that statement:

Here we are, gathered at the most challenging of times in life, and the music my friends has been divine.  This is just the opening act.

Here we are, and we don’t even all know each other, and yet I feel a kinship that transcends our earthly connections.  We are family, children of the same loving parent.

Here we are…beautiful and handsome as we all are…but there is a light that burns in our souls that makes all of that outward glamor pale in comparison.  And if you don’t believe me, close your eyes and picture the sparkle in David’s eyes that was there every single time I spoke with him, no matter how much bodily pain or illness he was going through.  Fabulous, to the core.

Here we are, each one of us holding in our hearts today this companion on life’s journey that we love so much…and I know we are carrying others, too.  Fabulous, amazing people whose lives intersected with our own for a time, beloved lights of this world who gave us the gift of seeing ourselves and each other as brighter and more promising than we ever could see ourselves.  All of those people we love and remember, and David among them, live on in our hearts and our minds and they, too, are a part of the world we cannot yet see and yet we know is alive in us.  Take a minute right now: remember…see them all…the incredible people who walk on the other side of the veil. Picture who you’d most want David to meet.  There you go…I see you smiling! 

Heaven, my friends, must be a fabulous place.  Even more fabulous now, with David in the midst.

This is the same message Jesus was telling his disciples in the Gospel passage that we read. Jesus was speaking from his heart, too, from all the evidence that he had about the place where he was going, and where he would be preparing the greatest, most fabulous welcome imaginable for the friends whom he loved.  This passage from the Gospel offers words of comfort from Jesus to his friends, as Jesus was preparing for his own death and the end of his human life.  What he chooses to tell his friends to prepare them is this, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled…where I’m going there’s plenty of room for y’all…I wouldn’t tell you this if it weren’t really true…I’ll get things ready and then come and invite you when it’s time, so that where I am you can be, too.  And you already know the way!” 

His friend, Thomas, was a bit of a skeptic, too.  And he didn’t know the way, and he didn’t want to get lost. He wanted to know he would see his friend. So he asked Jesus, “how can we know the way?”  And Jesus looked at his friend Thomas and said to him, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.  All anyone needs to do is know me, and in that knowledge they will find the way.”

I know that last part sounds different than it did when you heard it earlier. People in their fear have corrupted the beauty of Jesus’ words of reassurance to his friends.  I spent half my life being force-fed the “no one comes except” part by hurt people, who get caught in a spiral of hurting other people.  Maybe some of you have been caught in that web, too. But that “no one comes except” translation isn’t the emphasis in the original Greek, and I don’t believe that is the meaning and the good news of this passage.  When you study the sources, and pull back the layers, what you hear is Jesus saying, in complete reassurance and loving response to his friend’s worried question, “don’t worry: it’s through me that everyone comes…no one is lost.”

No one is lost. Everyone is welcome.

My faith, and all the evidence of my heart tell me, David is now part of the preparations crew and the willing chair of the hospitality committee for all the rest of us.  Welcome.  There’s a place for you, and you, and you and you and all y’all.  And that is all the evidence I need to be completely convinced that heaven is going to be a fabulous place.

Don’t let your hearts be troubled, friends.  And don’t think it’s crazy to believe the longing in your heart that wants to believe.  That spark is put there for a reason, as a reminder, as an ember of yearning that reminds us of our belovedness by God, that helps us to feel our connection as family, that fuels our remembrance and celebration of the bright lights of this world who live on in our souls as beacons to show the way to where we, too, are  invited and welcomed in love..

There is one more thing I know for certain: this belovedness of God is something David also knew, treasured in his heart, and celebrated every single time he engaged with this community whether in person or via Zoom.  And he will always be a part of this place.  A part of us.

So, sing when you remember David singing.  Love when you remember David’s love.  Pray when you are grateful for his presence in your life and this community.  And know that all of these things are drawing us towards each other, and helping us see and know God more fully. Jesus is the way of love, the truth of our belovedness, and the life everlasting.

And get ready to laugh and sing, friends.  Because heaven is going to be a fabulous place.

About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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