As a little boy I used to look at a picture on the wall by my bed. There was a woman with two little wings sprouting from her back, and she was lying motionless on a cloud. That was my first impression of heaven, and it was awful. For a boy there is nothing worse than having to lie still for ever and ever and ever doing absolutely nothing. At any price I had to avoid such a fate.
I think I was an agnostic by the age of nine, and I continued as a militant atheist for five years in the army during the war till my conversion on October the 7th. 1947. Almost instantly I knew that heaven must be better than anything I had ever imagined. Now it upsets me to meet people who imagine heaven would be a bore.
I wonder if the apostles might have had a similarly bleak picture of heaven in mind. Let me read to you some words Jesus spoke at the last supper the day before he was arrested and crucified. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?"
Last week we thought about the tunnel of death, and Jesus as the way through death, the truth about death, and our life after death. Today we focus on our destination. "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places" (John 14:2). In the old King James Version this was translated "In my Father's house there are many mansions." That suggests the huge mansions built by the rich in the golden age of Brockville. But who wants to be confined for ever alone in a big mansion?
Another translation of dwelling places is stopping places. You could think of truck stops as stopping places on a long drive across Canada. But I am sure heaven has much more to offer than food and a bed for truck drivers. I prefer to think of a string of five star hotels on a grand tour of Europe. The first night in Paris, the next in Rome, back via Prague, Vienna, and Amsterdam. That's more like it. God's heaven is infinitely richer and larger than this world of ours, and there is an infinite variety of things to be and do. So there is no need to picture heaven as house arrest for ever in a mansion.
The last parish I looked after was Christ Church, Cataraqui. The office was surrounded by the tombstones of Cataraqui cemetary. I always got upset by the first one as you came in. On the one side was the man's name, Davidson, and the dates of his life and death. On the other side there was just a single word RESTING. I told the people that when I died I did not want RESTING put on my tombstone. I don't intend to be resting for ever in heaven. I might take a nap when I first arrive if I am tired after the exhaustion of dying , but there will be too much to do to rest for ever and ever.
So let me warn you of three lies about life after death that the devil loves to spread around, and most of you are easily tempted to believe. Satan loves to tell lies about other people, and I hear many lies about others when I go visiting. He also likes to tell lies about individuals, "You are no good, God will never forgive what you did, there's no way God would love somebody like you." He also has some awful lies to put you off Jesus' heaven.
The first is "There is no such place. This life isn't perfect but that's all we've got." To answer that lie Jesus rose again from the dead and appeared to the first Christians for forty days. Paul said "No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Cor. 2:9). What God has in mind for us is infinitely more wonderful than anything we could ever imagine. Last week we thought about the nine months we spent in our mother's womb before we experienced life after birth. Did you have any idea in your mother's womb about Lake Ontario, or Toronto, or the Rockies, the sun moon and stars in the sky, or the millions of people you can see and meet in this world?
Which brings me to the second great lie about life after death. Even if there is something after death, it can only be resting from the misery of getting old and dying. You often get that idea in a funeral home. "We are glad his sufferings are over." Satan suggests that all you might get to enjoy is resting like Davidson in Cataraqui cemetary, or lying next to a loved one in the next plot, or even sitting like an old man in a mansion. But death is still a pretty dim prospect.
Let me read to you what the NT tells us about the many stopping places of heaven. "I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty. And the city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light. The nations will walk by that light, and people will bring into it the glory of the nations" (Revelation 21:22-26).
Imagine what that means. Every nation has some wonderful contributions to make to the glory of heaven. All the best of Russia and Cambodia, France and Norway, China, India and Argentina will be there. They will all contribute to the glory of heaven. Canada also has its own offering, and happily our imperfections will be left behind. Often we wish we had been able to travel and see other countries. But heaven will have the best of all them, and we can enjoy the innumerable stopping places they have to offer.
The third lie is that life after death is the last judgment. Last week my wife visited a home and we asked a woman how she pictured heaven. "Oh, after death is the judgment, and we will have to pay for all our sins and failures." The easiest way to counter this is by remembering that God is love (1John 4:16). It is true there are parents who refuse to love their children until they have made them pay for being bad. But most of us still keep loving our children even when they behave abominably. It is very hard to imagine that a loving God loves us less than we love our children. God's love is far deeper and more unconditional than the highest and best of human loves.
We also know that some of the great joys of life are feeling loved by another person, loved by one's family, loved by friends, loved by other members of one's church. Why would God put the longing to be loved in our hearts, and then say "I will make sure that what you get is condemnation for your sins?"
Paul's answer is that God's love is total and absolute. "I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).
It is interesting that the happiest experiences of feeling loved are often eating together. Children enjoy a birthday party. Lovers go and eat in a quiet restaurant by candlelight. We love family gatherings and picnics. When the prodigal son was welcomed home there was a barbecue. Jesus had all sorts of meals with the ordinary people of his day. And to make sure we understand that we are all loved and welcome at God's family table Jesus told us to keep having a family meal of bread and wine, the ordinary meal of an ordinary family in the Mediterranean at that time.
So the communion service points back to the meals Jesus had with good and bad people when he was one earth. It also picks up all our happy experiences of eating with others and feeling accepted and loved. And it points forward to the joys of eating and sharing with others in all the wondeful stopping places of heaven.