The time of Easter, our time, can be a fuzzy time. It is fuzzy in the sense that to those of us who have been graced with faith, for some strange reason, we can still find some kind of serenity (some joy even), despite the tears in this valley showing no signs of ebbing.
To tease out the confusing threads of this fuzzy time, theologians describe this interlude between the Christ-event and the final outcome of creation (whatever “final” means) as “the already and the not yet.” The kingdom of God is at hand. Well, yes, but (dot dot dot). The seeds of redemption have been sown. But the harvest has yet to happen. In the meantime, weeds are growing all over the garden.
“Master, we do not know where you are going,” Thomas tells Jesus in today’s Gospel. It is a confession of incomprehension as much as it is an admission of our own lostness in this fuzzy time of Easter. We do not know where you are going is to say in the same breath that we ourselves do not know where we are going. Indeed, we do well to ask ourselves where on earth (or after earth) are we going. And while we are at it, we may just as well ask, where did we come from? Tagasaan ka nga ba? At saan ka papunta?
Even if Jesus tells us (as he tells his apostles) that we, like him, are headed for the Father, would this assurance of our destination and destiny be of any consolation? If Jesus tells us that we, like him, have come from God and from the very heart of God, would this knowledge of our origin be of any comfort at all?
Our goal is to live with God forever. As our coming to life is from God, so then our coming to live all the days of our life is with God. This pretty much summarizes where we are going and who it is we will spend forever with.
Question is, does such a goal even grab us? Is such a goal even attractive or compelling?
I guess much depends on how we imagine heaven. A song from my frivolous adolescent years comes to mind:
In heaven there is no beer,
that’s why we drink it here.
And when we’re all gone from here,
Our friends will be drinking all the beer.
In heaven there is no wine,
So we drink till we feel fine.
And when we leave this all behind,
Our friends will be drinking all the wine.
If you think of heaven as one long, boring church service, you might have second thoughts about going there. If you imagine heaven as a beer-less place, you just might (as the song goes) gorge on all the beer you can have over here.
Imagining our destiny and destination is somewhat like weather forecasting. You can only extrapolate (or extend) from the data, even if limited, and precisely because it is limited and confined to the present. Based on data and a model (or in this case, an intuition or sense of faith), you can trace all sorts of trends and come up with a picture of the future, or an ensemble of futures, that is not at all unreasonable.
The difficulty with the beer-less heaven model is that it seems to assume an impermeable firewall, an unbridgeable discontinuity between earth and heaven, such that heaven becomes everything earth is not. Immediately you will see problems with that.
On the contrary, the incarnation of God in Christ and our sense of faith enable us to see something of heaven even in the little and ordinary things of this world. We sense eternity even in things that end. We intuit infinity even in what is earthbound. We discover mystery tucked beneath the surface, and in between the most prosaic layers of our lives. Our whole notion of sacramental reality is built on this sense and conviction of faith.
It is more than just wishful thinking then to suppose and believe that heaven is the extrapolation of all the goodness of life on earth. Heaven is the infinite multiplication of all the blessings of love and communion and of everything that we hope would be lasting. It is the fulfillment of our longing, the completion of life and redemption, the gathering of remnants we still care enough to keep and remember.
Not knowing life and love and mercy then, even in this fuzzy time of Easter, would make it hard for us to long for the warmth of where we are going.
If the gospel stories about our Lord in banquets of love, fellowship, and mercy are any indication, there is reason to believe that there will be wine in heaven. On earth as it will be in heaven, I shall no doubt raise a glass and with the angels gladly drink to that.
[by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ]
About Jett Villarin, SJ
Fr. Jett is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who is the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.