When most of us were kids, we likely played scenarios about what we wanted to be when we grew up. Some of us may have played teacher, or construction worker, of any number of other adult vocations in life. If you were like me you often played doctor. I wanted to be a doctor so bad that my yearning went beyond role play and I began to take a liking to school subjects that were related to learning about how to be a doctor.
It was a way for us as kids to imagine what it would be like to be who we imagined ourselves to one day become.
What will we be like in heaven? Have we ever role-played our future selves in heaven? What a wonderful question to ponder. None of us have been there yet, so we can only imagine what it will be like. However, the question is, do we dare to imagine? Do we dare to imagine as if we were kids again?
The contemporary Christian music band Mercy Me has a beautiful song titled I Can Only Imagine. The song is in the form of a prayer. It is a prayer that ponders with God what the afterlife will be like. It is hard to listen to this song and not feel an invitation to ponder ourselves.
The lyrics go something like this:
I can only imagine … what it will be like … when I walk by your side
I can only imagine … what my eyes will see … when your face is before me
I can only imagine … surrounded by your glory … what my heart will feel
The entire song is simply a question of what it will be like to be in heaven. It is a question that the artist cannot answer, but dares to prayerfully imagine.
In Luke 20:27-40, the Sadducees (who do not believe in the after-life) present this question to Jesus. What will the afterlife be like? It was an attempt to discredit Jesus’ teaching on the after-life. By describing an earthly scenario so complicated and ridiculous they hoped to stump him. They thought they would because they could not think past what they knew. So they thought Jesus would have to describe the afterlife in earthly terms based on existing human relationships and structures.
They were not able or willing to imagine.
So Jesus reframes the question as he did so often. He begins on their terms, by referencing the words of God at the Burning Bush, which they would have understood. Afterwards, he invites them to elevate their thinking so they could think beyond this world.
When we go about our day to day life and we wonder what will come next, do we imagine beyond this world? Is God’s mercy bigger than the retributive eye-for-an-eye form of justice in our world? Is God’s beauty bigger than any work of art or nature scene? Is God’s intelligence greater than any human genius? Is God’s love greater than any human relationship we have? Is God’s providence bigger than any issue or struggle we face here on earth?
Is the unity we imagine that God will grant us in heaven greater than the ways we often differentiate ourselves through gender, skin color, ethnicity, cultural norms, or social class?
Where is journey’s end if not the Lord our God, the One we should love with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind? We have not yet reached him, but our neighbor is here at our side. Look after this companion of your pilgrimage if you would reach the One whom you desire to be with forever.Saint Augustine (On John’s Gospel 17, 9)
Do we dare to imagine such unity today? For if we dare to imagine, like we did when we played adult roles as kids, then we will start to desire it. As we desire it we can reconfigure our lives here on earth to BE like the afterlife we imagine just as we did as kids.
Can we imagine our lives to be in a place where we will experience true community, true beauty, true love, and true justice?
I imagine in her deep prayer life Saint Rita often dared to imagine the type of community that we will experience in heaven. I’m sure as she did it left her with a restless desire to create peace. Perhaps a restlessness that been when she was just a kid and observed her own parents as peacemakers. I imagine this restless desire for what was not yet in our world is what led her to continually try to create peace here on earth through her peacemaking.
Like Jesus, she began with where people were: their common search for peace, happiness, and justice. She then challenged them to think bigger than how they were presently seeking peace, happiness, and justice. To imagine and desire peace, happiness, and justice not through revenge and oppression of other people; but through humility, reconciliation, and a search for the common good.
God satisfies the seeker according to the seeker’s capacity; and the capacity of the finder he enlarges, so that the finder will seek the further fulfillment of which he now begins to be capable.Saint Augustine (On the Gospel of John 63, 1)
Do we dare to imagine? Do we dare to imagine together?
That is the invitation we are given each time we receive the Eucharist, a taste of the heavenly banquet we will all share together in heaven for eternity.
What will this heavenly banquet look like? We can only imagine. Do we dare to imagine together?
Though we labor among the many distractions of the world, we should have but one goal. For we are but travelers on a journey without as yet a fixed abode; we are on our way, not yet in our native land; we are in a state of longing, not yet of enjoyment. But let us continue on our way … so that we may ultimately arrive at our destination.