John 3:1-21 [Jesus said to Nicodemus] I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony…No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven…For God loved the world so much…God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
This morning early, I lit a candle and listened to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue as we did seven years ago when three angels and Michael escorted Karis to Heaven.
Heaven. When Jesus talks about heaven, we should pay attention. Because he lived there.
This week a friend in Chicago asked me whether I had heard of capoeira and the berimbau. Her son in Seattle is learning them.
Her words immediately conjured happy days at Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo pressing into the crowd to watch in fascination the blend of martial arts, play fighting and choreographed dance/gymnastics of a capoeira group showing off their skills, to the thrum of the berimbau and the shake shake shaking of the caxixi.
Yes, I’m familiar with capoeira and the berimbau. It takes a lot of practice and highly developed skills to do it well. I know, because I lived in Brazil for years and saw capoeira many times.
Suppose someone tried to tell me capoeira is a type of hmm, a type of Brazilian chocolate. I would just look at them and shake my head, maybe laugh a little.
I had an experience like that once. I was at a conference in Arkansas and struck up a conversation with a woman sitting across from me at lunch. When she found out I lived in Brazil, she immediately started telling me what I needed to understand about Brazil and how to do effective work there. Had she ever been to Brazil? No. But once she had talked to someone who had heard a speaker who said… My new acquaintance was not interested in my experience from having lived there, at that point, more than ten years. She “knew” what my husband and I ought to be doing, and how, and why. She took the rest of the meal to explain this to me. All I could do was shake my head and laugh a little.
Jesus knew about heaven. He had lived there since before our world was even made. Nicodemus thought he knew. As a Pharisee, he thought God was all about rules and control, of himself and of other people. No, no, no, Jesus said. It’s about freedom, the Holy Spirit dancing like the wind, birthing life, life that is unending, into people’s spirits. It’s about love, God loving people so much, so much that he gave them what was most precious to him. It’s about light, dispelling the darkness of judgment and fear of condemnation, of not measuring up to all the rules. “Come into the light—true light from heaven,” Jesus invited Nicodemus. “Then you’ll see what God is like, what he actually wants.”
I heard on NPR an interview with Steve Bannon in which he was chuckling over how vulnerable people are, how easy it is to exploit their fears and make them believe anything. I couldn’t believe it. I looked up the interview later to see whether I had heard him correctly. He said these things with no shame, no attempt to cover them up. This was no underground operation. He reveled in his power to take advantage of people for his own ends. He could make people believe anything, he said, if he played on their fears and repeated it often enough.
No, no, no. No. Evoking and exploiting fear is NOT the language of heaven. There is nothing remotely like God in that. So what makes us vulnerable to it? Paul offers an antidote: Let your roots grow down deep into the soil of God’s wonderful love to keep you strong (Ephesians 3:17). I’ve chosen that as my 2021 year verse. Then you’ll have the ability to know, to understand and experience, the dimensions of God’s love, Paul continues. You’ll be able to speak the language of heaven.
More than anyone I’ve known, Karis learned the language and culture and values of heaven while she still lived on earth, the language of love and joy, freedom, and grace. I have no doubt she’s very much at home there.
And God’s given me a “vision” of her this week: welcoming into heaven those who have died from Covid, helping heal their trauma, helping them transition into wellness. She can do this because she knows what it’s like to die from a horrible virus. In her case it was H1N1, but from what I observed of her last illness and what I’ve heard about Covid deaths, it’s not much different. As I grieve our friends who have died from Covid, it comforts me to think of Karis meeting them and caring for them in their new home, her sparkling blue eyes and that irresistible smile even more radiant because she’s free from pain, as they will be. Are.
I have to share what appeared at our door this week, accompanied by a note from Karis. Photos don’t do them justice—the roses are glorious. My husband outdid himself. Every time I’ve felt a wash of sadness this week, missing Karis, I’ve looked at my roses and soaked in the love they represent. A tangible, visible sign of God’s love. Sacrament. And I echo Karis’s poem, “Lord, make my life sacrament.”