Going to Heaven

Homily at St Philip Evans for Ascension Sunday, Year C.

God’s got a problem.

God wants us to enjoy eternal life.

But God is also totally just, totally fair.

None of us deserve to go to Heaven.

 

Famously, the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death!” Surely that means horrific sins, like rape and murder?

No! Any sin, even trivial, means that humanity is not the race of perfect beings which God calls us to be. Because we are staining God’s plan for the whole Universe, that deserves a more serious punishment.

God’s original plan was that when the first human beings appeared on earth, each body would be gifted an immortal soul, and through a further miracle, each human body would be kept free from pain, death and suffering.  But to receive the gift, terms and conditions applied – the first humans had to follow all God’s rules. They didn’t, and so the gift was withdrawn. This is why the Bible says that death – meaning the death of human beings – came into the world through sin. When we read the original story, God said “If you eat the tree of knowledge you will die” – it is by God’s mercy that the death did not come immediately, but only after a life of toil.

 

 

The Old Testament contains other deals which God offers to humanity – we call them covenants. On Easter night we celebrated the story of the Exodus. The Angel of Death slays the firstborn of Egypt – the Hebrews have marked their houses with the blood of the Passover Lamb, and are spared. Every year they must tell the story, eat a meal including lamb, and remember. These days it’s easy to object to the idea of God sending an angel of mass destruction. But remember, from the very first generation, humanity is already condemned and is only spared by God’s mercy.

In the desert, Moses receives a Law for the Hebrews. Each year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest must sacrifice a bull for the cleansing of the temple and a goat for the sins of the people. But how can goat’s blood and bull’s blood take away sins? Even in the Old Testament, prophets and psalmists pondered how that worked and realised that it was only a sign of continuing to depend on God’s mercy.

 

For six weeks we’ve been celebrating Easter – the story of what happened. Today’s letter to the Hebrews helps us understand why it had to happen. Jesus Himself was the perfect sacrifice, the only being whose death could possibly have a moral value sufficient to compensate for the spoiling of a perfect world. It is His blood, offered once, which can accomplish what the sacrifice of a goat and a bull each year could not. Just as the Hebrews whose homes were marked with the blood of the Passover Lamb were spared bodily death, so we are spared spiritual death when we ask Jesus, the Lamb of God, to protect us by his blood.

When the new English translation of the Mass was issued, there was concern that the words said:

THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD,

THE BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT,

WHICH WILL BE POURED OUT FOR YOU AND FOR MANY.

 

 

Why “for many”, not “for all”? Was there any person Jesus didn’t die for?

But in the prayers of our Mass, we try to follow faithfully what the Bible says; many parts of our prayers are taken directly from Scripture. This one comes from today’s reading: “Christ, too, offers himself only once to take the faults of many on himself.” This doesn’t mean that there was anyone Jesus didn’t want to save. But it’s not impossible that some souls could refuse to accept the gift. All are offered the chance of heaven; many accept it. More than that, we do not know.

 

Another short but important teaching is present here, too. The Bible is clear that we are not reincarnated – we live once, and then comes judgment. Scripture only says this explicitly once, but once is enough.

 

I won’t often preach a sermon which focuses on simply explaining something, rather than having practical consequences. But today is a good day for explanations. Jesus has just completed 40 days explaining things to his disciples. Sometimes we need the humility to accept that God’s explanation for things is good enough, even if it leaves us with more questions.

God had a problem.

God wanted us to enjoy eternal life.Crucifix by Penanne Crabbe

But God is also totally just, totally fair.

None of us deserve to go to Heaven.

Jesus freely chose to die on the Cross to make up for our unworthiness.

Even if we don’t understand how it works, we give thanks that it did work, and Jesus did it.

 

The mystery of faith:

Save us, Saviour of the World.

For by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.