Sunday, May 11, 2014

Heaven is for Real for Her

Streets of gold.  A mansion - or at least a room in a mansion.  Angels playing harps singing songs of worship to God.  These are some images we sometimes have of heaven.  What will it be like?  There is a song called "I Can Only Imagine" which speaks to the fact that it is impossible to know what the experience of being in heaven might be like.
But we do have a solid clue about some of the themes of heaven thanks to the witness of the Bible.  We have a lot of examples of God breaking into human history - the life and ministry of Jesus being one massive incarnation that has changed lives and kept millions talking up to now.  Perhaps if we consider what it meant for people when God broke into their lives on this side of heaven, we'll have an idea of what things to expect on the other side of life.

She woke up to another day of isolation surrounded by community.  She knew she was not welcome with her peers.  She knew she was lucky to have a roof over her head, though the rent was greater isolation – what kind of relationship did she have with the man-not-her-husband, anyway?  She waited until the heat of the day to fetch water – she’d be all alone at that time, but maybe that was better than feeling the cold shoulder had she gone with the other women earlier that morning.  She was surprised to find a stranger at the well.  More surprised when his accent betrayed his home – he was not a Samarian.  Soon his words indicated that he was a learned man.  Later, she would be the first to hear that he was the anointed one God was working through to redeem her people – and his people.  That day was a new beginning for her.  She was valued.  She was not rebuked.  She was encouraged.  She was welcomed.  She was empowered.  Heaven was for real that day, and it was for her.

She was awakened, once again, by her pain.  Sever cramping and ceaseless bleeding gave her another restless night.  Everybody knew her.  Everybody pitied her.  Everybody wondered what it meant that God had perhaps afflicted her with her years’ long condition.  Everybody also wondered what it meant that God had not heard her prayer for healing.  She heard he was coming into town – she could see the crowd coming her way.  Literally having nothing to lose, she put herself in his path.  As he passed, she reached out to touch the edge of his robe, remembering an old scripture that suggested there might be healing there.  She made contact, and everything stopped.  Her cramping.  Her bleeding.  Her despair.  And her healer.  He inquired about who touched him – how could he know?  How could he not know?  Fearing the worst, she identified herself and braced for a rebuke.  Instead, the one through whom God was so powerfully at work commended her for her faith and blessed her in front of everyone.  Heaven was for real that day, and it was for her.

She didn’t want to wake up that day.  She felt dirty and despised.  She was right.  She knew what she was doing was wrong, and yet she didn’t see a way out.  Not anymore.  She was beyond redemption.  Her adulterous choices were known in her community.  Publicly, everyone looked down on her.  Privately, men looked her way when they could afford their indiscretion.  And so she got up, put herself together, and made her way through the streets to a room where she would meet him – had she been with him before?  As she passionlessly went through the motions yet again, she was immediately sobered by men rushing in through the door.  Before she knew it she was being pushed through the streets in nothing but a sheet.  After a short walk, she found herself thrust to the feet of Jesus where he was teaching.  The religious leaders were using her as a pawn in a power struggle – why would they care to treat her with dignity and respect?  Jesus responded to the chess masters, “You who are sinless among you, cast the first stone.”  Slowly and surely, everyone left.  They were alone together.  But this man would not require her to perform as she had so many times before.  This man spoke forgiveness long before she could even begin to dream of asking for it.  He told her to change her life.  This was one of those near-death experiences that serves to wake a person up.  For her, it was an invitation to a new chapter.  She would have to live with her decisions and the public scorn – maybe for a very long time.  But she found out that day that God has not given up on her.  God had given her a new day through this exchange with Jesus.  Heaven was for real that day, and it was for her.

She didn’t wake up that day before dawn because she never fell asleep.  She, along with a few other women, arose with grief-stricken hearts and swollen eyes.  She made her way with the others to the tomb where her son had been laid.  With every step she retraced their life together.  From the miraculous kicks within her womb, to prophetic words at his dedication; from fear of losing him at a young age, to finding him in his Father’s house.  His miracles.  His teaching.  His lifestyle.  his ministry.  His compassion.  His boldness.  His tenderness.  His love.  His grace.  God working in him and through him from the beginning.  Where was God now?  What did her son’s death mean?  What did it mean about how God felt about him?  About her?  In a weary stupor she arrived at the tomb.  Immediately, she was awash in confusion.  Why is the stone rolled away?  Where is her son?  Angels spoke nonsensical words.  Filled with fear, she and the others headed back to the disciples, passing him along the way.  It was him!  God had not forgotten him.  Or her.  Death had lost its sting.  God gave beauty for ashes, strength for fear, gladness for mourning, peace for despair.  Heaven was for real that day, and it was for her.

May you be encouraged today as you read about what a taste of heaven on earth meant for the women described here.  And may you realize that heaven is for real for you, too.  Now, growing into eternity.