Mark 9: 2-10 (2nd Sunday of Lent, year B)
My 95 year old grandma (if you're reading this, hi Oma!) likes reading mystery novels, specifically ones about a cat that solves murders. Whenever she starts a new book, she does something interesting. After reading the first chapter, she flips to the end of the book and reads the last chapter. Sound strange? She has her reasons. First, she doesn't know if she will live long enough to read the end. Second, she doesn't want to waste her time reading books with a bad ending. Third, if the ending is promising it gives her incentive to go back and read the whole novel. Contrary to what I would think, knowing the book’s finale helps her persevere in reading it all. When she feels like giving up because the reading is burdensome, she reminds herself of the great ending, and how good it will be to arrive at the last chapter and relive it. This gives her the strength to continue reading.
In His Transfiguration, Jesus does something similar for Peter, James and John. Jesus shows His disciples how the story will end so that they will have courage for what lies ahead. After the Transfiguration, Jesus will begin making His way towards Jerusalem where the authorities will turn on Him, arrest Him, beat Him and have Him crucified. In order to strengthen His disciples, Jesus gives them a sneak peek at His final victory. In the Transfiguration, Jesus predicts His own resurrection and His appearance is changed. His clothes becomes dazzling white. It is as though Jesus gives us a glimpse of His resurrected, glorified body. Alongside Jesus appears Moses, the one through whom God gave the law, and Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets. This shows that Jesus is the true Saviour, the fulfillment of the law and all that the prophets had spoken of in the past. When Jesus’ disciples hear the voice from heaven, they receive confirmation of His identity. This carpenter from Nazareth is indeed the Son of God! In the end, He will be victorious - He will rise again! Jesus allows His followers to see the end of the story to give them hope, strength and courage in the face of the struggles that lie ahead.
In order to better bear the hardships in our own life, it is helpful to remind ourselves of the end of our own story: heaven. Remembering that we will one day be with God and those we love in perfect, eternal happiness is a source of hope and strength in times of trial. It gives meaning and purpose to all that we do until then. This principle was powerfully described by Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. While suffering in a concentration camp, Frankl’s trained mind observed the behaviour of the other prisoners. He saw that although all prisoners were subjected to the same torment, some gave up and soon died, whereas other struggled on and lived longer. Frankl determined that those who continued trying to survive were the ones who had found meaning in the midst of their suffering. Particularly, the hope that they would one day be reunified with those they loved spurred them on. Frankl experienced this personally. Remembering his beloved wife and the fact that they might someday be together again gave him the hope and courage to continue. We all suffer and can feel like giving up at times. Reminding ourselves that one day we will be perfectly happy in heaven enlivens us the the midst of our own struggles.
In order for the hope of heaven to empower us, however, we need to become much more concrete about what we expect to find in heaven. We are too vague about what the end of our story is. We see heaven as some spiritual, bodiless, reality in which we are praying all the time. We are not excited about heaven because our idea of heaven is not very exciting! Our belief in the resurrection of the body means that heaven is a physical reality. We will live in a physical world much like this one, only purified of all evil. Recently I heard a talk by the author John Eldredge that really got me thinking. In order to make heaven a more tangible reality, he challenged everyone to answer this question: “what are the first three things you will do in heaven?” I tried to come up with an answer. Here are the first three things I will do when I get to heaven.
- Have a beer with Jesus. This isn’t just because I imagine that the beer in heaven will be awesome. I look forward to the conversation we will have. I imagine it will be like one I have with my best friends. These are conversations that alternate effortlessly between moments of laughter and being serious. I want to rejoice with Jesus about the victory of good over evil. I want to hear Jesus tell me that I have done well and that inspite of my mistakes He is proud of me.
- Meet all the cool people in heaven. I want to see members of my family and friends who have gone before me. I want to meet the incredible Saints: Peter, Nicholas, Francis, Ignatius and Mother Theresa. That will be awesome!
- Go water skiing. As a child, I loved going water skiing. Skipping across the glassy water and taking in the beautiful scenery was a pure joy. Unfortunately, I had to stop water skiing when I got too heavy for the boat to pull me! Since I assume that under-powered engines will not be an issue in heaven, I very much look forward to doing this again.
In trying to answer these questions, heaven became much more real and concrete for me. It is therefore easier to hope to be in heaven. Thinking about the end of my story becomes something that more readily fills me with strength and courage in difficult times.
Try to answer this question for yourself. What are the first three things that you will do in heaven?