Jesus once told his disciples to “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” If you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, this promise is for you also; and, these are the most important words you will ever hear anywhere, from anyone. Almost all of the words we hear and say have to do with this brief little life on this temporary little planet. Only the words of Jesus speak of another place and another time and another life. So, “Rejoice,” Jesus says, “that your names are written in heaven.”
We will soon be in the tornado season in the Midwest. Every year, tornadoes hit someone, somewhere. Many people will hear the warnings and head for the safety of the basement. For most, the storms will pass and everyone will breath a sigh of relief. But every year there are those who, while they are huddled together downstairs, have their home destroyed above them. Losing your home is a life-changer. It takes a long time for those who suffer that kind of loss to put the pieces of their lives back together again. But this is a short term problem. They will eventually rebuild and life will go on.
A teenage boy is in a car accident. His back is broken, his spine is severed, and he will never walk again. This is an even bigger life-changing event. That boy will have to make all kinds of adjustments in everything– from his future career plans to the way he goes to the bathroom. Everything will be more difficult and more complicated. But this too is a short term problem. His paralysis will last only as long as he lives.
A doctor comes back with the report that the discomfort that a young wife and mother has been feeling is cancer, it is terminal, and she has only weeks to live. This news will not only change her life, it will end it. But even this is only a short term problem.
It is not insensitive to call such huge tragedies short term problems. It is simply a fact that life itself has only short term prospects. No matter what we are blessed with, or, what is taken from us, it is all, only for the time being. Most of what we talk about, most of what we deal with, most of what we look forward to or dread, will all one day soon come to an end. It might seem odd to talk about an entire lifetime in a wheelchair as a short term problem. But ask any 90-year old and she will tell you. Life itself speeds by in a very short time.
These words of Jesus, however, speak of something else. “Rejoice,” he said, “because your names are written in heaven.” Heaven– another time and place, a time and place without end.
“Your names are written down,” said Jesus. If you travel away from home, you better plan on your name being written down in a few places along the way. In fact, you better make some arrangements ahead of time to make sure your name is written down. First of all, you will go to the airport ticket counter to get your boarding pass. You hope they can find your name written down somewhere in their computer, or you aren’t going anywhere.
When you get to your destination and the cab takes you and your luggage to the hotel, you hope that your name is written down there, especially if you have already charged it to your credit card and all the other hotels in the city are full. If for some reason your name isn’t written down, you have a problem.
Then if you’ve made any reservations for tours or shows or whatever it is you are planning to do, you again have to hope that nobody made a mistake, and your name is written down where it is supposed to be written down.
You may or may not be a traveler, but the time comes when everyone takes a journey– the same journey— from this life and this world, on to whatever it is that comes next. There are those who believe there is no next place, and the journey is only to a hole in the ground (No thanks). There are those that believe the journey that begins in death is a round-trip ticket, and when you die your spirit goes out of you, only to come back into some other being. (Again, no thanks; I’m not interested– besides, this belief in reincarnation never made any sense to me, because I have never seen even a shred of evidence of it in myself. What part of ‘me’ has come back if I don’t even have a single memory of any of my many previous lives?) And there are those who say that when we die we go on to join the mysterious life force from which we came, and we will live on in the breezes and the gleam of the sunset and the sparkle on the new-fallen snow. (But what good is that? I don’t want to be a ‘gleam’ or a ‘sparkle,’ I want to be a person again.)
What Jesus offers is far better. He offers us the opportunity to prepare for this journey by making sure our names are written down. The Bible was written, says I John, “so that you may know you have eternal life.” And Jesus said, “Rejoice, that your names are written in heaven.” That sounds good to me, and far better than any of the other options that have been proposed and believed.
This cannot, of course, be only a matter of personal preference. This belief must be based on reality and truth, or it is not worth bothering with. And as Christians we believe that Jesus not only talked about the possibility of life after death, but proved it in his own resurrection from the dead. It was meeting the living Jesus, back from the dead, that drove the disciples out into the world with the seemingly impossible task of proclaiming that even though we die, we can live again.
John 11:25 — Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
I Corinthians 15:19-20 — If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Luke 10:20b — (Jesus said), “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
I John 5:13 — I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Support us, Lord, all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work done; then Lord, in your mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at the last. Amen.
–1928 Book of Common Prayer