I had a dream a few months after my mother died. It was the beginning of winter, as it is now. The holiday shopping season was getting underway. I haven’t started on that yet; but in my dream, I was loaded up with parcels and bags, waiting at a stop light for the pedestrian walk sign. My father was at my side. As we waited, I began to feel more and more burdened by all of the things I was carrying. My back ached; my bones hurt. As we waited, and a cosmopolitan crowd of people gathered around the light pole – “from every tribe, people, and language,” as one might say – I discovered that my aunt and my late uncle had made their way next to us. As the walk sign lit up, they began to lift the parcels and bags out of my arms as we crossed the road, until there was nothing left for me to carry, and I was able to walk easily and upright, to meet my mother, standing on the other side. The living and the dead were all jumbled together in that busy crosswalk, sharing the burdens of grief and love, lightening the load for one another.
There were no white-robed martyrs in my vision; my dreams have always tended to be a little more down-to-earth, and not entirely subtle. But the message was lighter than air.
If the vision of white-robed martyrs continually worshipping God before the throne of heaven is a bit of a disconnect from your daily life, then I would invite us to remember that our worship of God is rooted in love: in the love of God, which necessitates the love of one another.
Those who have gone before us have not turned their backs on us in order to turn towards God; rather, they now see us through the lens of God, seeing us as though through the eyes of God, with all of the compassion, forgiveness, grace that the gaze of God entails. One day, that vision will be ours, too.
But most of religion – any religion – has less to do with what happens to us when we die than what we do while we are alive. I read once, for my sins, the book 90 Minutes in Heaven. Towards the end of the book, when he is sufficiently recovered to get out and about, the author describes sitting in a restaurant with another man, a Baptist minister, who had the audacity to presume that most of the other people in it were on their way to hell.
… he paused to look around.
“Yet here we are sitting in this place, surrounded by people, many of whom are probably lost and going to hell, and we won’t say a word about how they can have eternal life. Something is wrong with us.”
I almost threw the book across the room. How the hell would this man presume to know, looking at a mess of strangers, what God intends for them? He knew nothing about them, except that each of them was an image of God, created by God for this life, on this earth, for the purpose first and foremost of God’s love.
But once I had swallowed my anger and my judgement of his judginess, here’s where I think Piper and his friend might be veering in a right direction. We live in this world as Christians, in the full and at least occasionally certain knowledge of the love of God, which is a help in our heavy times, and a joy in times of delight. We are surrounded by people, many of whom feel lost and heavy, and we often fail to share their burdens, and to offer the relief that we have found in the company of the living God, to share what we have heard and known; what might be called eternal life in the here and now.
This is the life which God has created especially for us, so that we might become fully human, creatures made in the image of our Creator, learning to reflect and resemble the divine. It is in this life that we are commanded to see one another through the lens of God’s compassion, justice, and love, to the very best of our ability.
In this life, we are the Communion of Saints to those around us, and it is our duty and our blessing to help to carry their burdens.
In this life, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” says Jesus, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessed are those who know that their riches come not from the world and its baubles, but from the righteousness and love of God. Blessed are those who know how to live already as though “thy kingdom” has come, doing God’s will on earth as they do in heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for even though the pain of grief and separation, the sting of loss is sharp and deep, there is comfort in finding a way through to a life that can still encompass love. There is a sad sweetness in memory, and hope in each new day.
Blessed are the meek, for in their patience, while others fight over scraps, they will inherit the goodness of creation, as those who appreciate its gifts.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will find it and be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for by their own example they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for with the eyes of their hearts enlightened, through the lens of love, compassion, and grace, they can see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who do not seek war for the sake of dominance, nor who preach peace where there is no peace. Blessed are those who do not paper over violent cracks but who open a way of safety for the oppressed, who support the cause of justice for the downtrodden, who show mercy to the penitent, and promote a lasting peace; for they will be called children of God.
When all else fails; when all the goodness of this life is exhausted, then blessed are you even when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of your lived-out faith in Jesus. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
For those of us who are not persecuted nor reviled, then the blessings of this life are sufficient to know that God is good, that God created this life especially for us to live in love for our Creator and for one another, carrying one another’s burdens so that our days may be light, and easy to walk over, and without fear.
The promise of heaven is a reminder that we are not the first to have walked this way, nor do we journey alone, but with the help and comfort of the great Communion of Saints who regard us now through the eyes of God, and whom we shall one day see face to face, joined in wonder, love, and praise around the throne of heaven.
 Don Piper and Cecil Murphey, 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life (Revell: Grand Rapids, 2007)