Sunday, 19 March 2017

No Chocolate in Heaven, 3rd Sunday Lent, Year A

Jn 4:5-42; Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-8
I want to share with you something that I’ve been thinking about this last week, something that may come as bad news for some of you. And the thing is this: there is not going to be chocolate in heaven. Now, some of you may hear that and think that you've ALREADY given up chocolate for Lent, and you are already counting the days until your next chocolate bar on Easter Sunday morning, and yet NOW you hear me say that there will be no chocolate in heaven either! Of course, there are some of you who have not given up chocolate, and are not particularly upset about this because you've given up BEER for Lent, however, to you my news is that there will be no beer in heaven either!

I make this point to highlight something being taught in all three of our readings today, because our readings focus on the question of WHAT will truly SATISFY this, on the question of what it is that we HOPE for. Our first reading (Ex 17:3-7) referred to the thirst of the people of Israel as they wandered in the desert, and how God satisfied that thirst with water flowing from the rock. But that satisfaction of thirst was a symbol of the deeper SPIRITUAL thirst that only GOD can satisfy, that neither chocolate nor beer can satisfy. There will be neither chocolate nor beer in heaven because what will satisfy us in heaven will be God Himself, in His fullness. This spiritual thirst is what we heard Jesus referring to in our Gospel text, the thirst that Christ said He Himself would satisfy: "anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again" (Jn 4:14). This water will become "a spring inside... welling up to eternal life"(Jn 4:14). And what is this water, this spring? It is the life of the Holy Spirit.

The pouring of that Spirit into our hearts was referred to in our second reading from St Paul to the Romans. He spoke also about how a Christian must be “looking forward”(Rom 5:2) not to things of this world but to the ultimate glory. And he said that "this hope is not deceptive"(Rom 5:5) . Referring to the Holy Spirit, and making yet ANOTHER reference to something being "poured" out, he said that this “hope” of future glory was not deceptive "because the LOVE of God has been poured into our hearts" (Rom5:5).

Now, the "love of God" is something that we need to have a profound grasp of if we are to appreciate what HEAVEN will be like.
There are two senses in which we can speak of the "love of God": (1) the love that He has for us, and, (2) the love that we have for Him. Both of these produce an effect in us, a transforming effect, the transformation of complete joy. As I've said to you before, even in this life, we all know something of the relationship between love and joy. Concerning love “for us”, the experience of knowing that somebody else loves us is an experience that fills us with joy. Similarly, the experience of loving someone else, especially the experience of loving someone else who we know loves us, this experience fills us with JOY.
And, the deeper that love the deeper the joy.
And, Heaven is the place where this experience will exceed anything we now know because it will be an experience not at our finite human level but an experience of the INFINITE love of God.
In the face of such an experience the pleasures of chocolate and beer will be left behind.

To bring this to a conclusion, why are we talking of this in Lent?
In part, because people across the world are preparing for Easter baptism in this season, baptism that will bring them that outpouring of that regenerating water, with the Holy Spirit.
But, for all of us, the season of Lent is a season to purify and test what it is that we have our "hope" set upon, to test what it is we are attached to. The fasting and self-denial of Lent, the giving something up for Lent, should help purify us of an excessive attachment to the pleasures of this world and remind us of the "hope" of spiritual joy, and of the hope of that joy in life eternal, such that we “will never be thirsty again”(Jn 4:14).

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