Jesus is for real. Easter 2014

Heaven is for real.  That is the bold declaration of young Colton Burpo –now the subject of two books and a movie.  The movie is all the rage – cleverly released during Holy Week; one of the rare times that religion is an acceptable subject in the mainstream press.

It is an interesting book – though I confess I’m in no hurry to see the film – the story of a minister’s son who has a vision of heaven during surgery.  Heaven is everything that a four year old can imagine, and more, and his plain and persistent descriptions change his father’s faith.

I read the book at the request of a friend, who was dying.  He wanted to know what I thought…it was a request I couldn’t refuse, but oddly, we never got round to discussing the testimony of young Mr Burpo.  It turns out that we were already convinced that our eternal destination was in God’s hands, and that knowledge, as it turns out, is comfort enough.

But this week, amid the rave reviews (and careful critics) of a movie unashamed of its Christian convictions, I was struck by an odd thought.  The message that “heaven is for real” may offer comfort to those who are afraid of death, but the gospel entrusted to the church, and the truth about God revealed by an empty tomb, is for those afraid of life.

This morning we gather to celebrate resurrection!  Today, the message of the church has little to do with heaven.  The good news contained in our statements of faith; our hope and our joy; our prayers and our praise; all are founded on our discovery that Jesus is for real!  The mystery of faith concentrates on this life, redeemed by resurrection.

Remember how John’s gospel describes the moment: people gathered in sorrow, preparing themselves to live with their grief, are met with the unthinkable challenge of an empty tomb.  In time, the risen Jesus – no illusion, no ‘spirit-man’; “I have not yet ascended to the Father”, Jesus assures the startled Mary  – Jesus ‘for real’, speaks to Mary and turns her grief to joy.  The risen Jesus leads his disciples to life renewed!  Because Jesus is real, his friends find new purpose, new energy, new life.  Fear is forgotten; faith is the fuel for their lives from this point on; heaven is an afterthought.

Because we know that Jesus is for real – a risen and living presence even now – our lives are guided by faith, not fear.  Heaven may seem like the prize for all our devotion, but the real prize – the point of Jesus teaching and suffering, and dying, and rising – is life!  Abundant, present, and (like everything touched by the love of God) Eternal.

Those who have been touched by this love, and drawn to this life have no time to contemplate heaven; once and for all it is clear that “the home of God is among mortals…”[1]  The promised “new Jerusalem” comes from heaven to earth ; heaven has found us!  The gift of God that meets us in the Risen Christ, is a gift for the here and now.  Claim the gift.  Live as a people redeemed in real time.  Tell the world that Jesus is for real.  Thanks be to God.  Amen




[1] Revelation 21: 3


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