Are we there yet?
You may remember that I come from a family of 10 kids. There are many great memories that come from being in a large family, but one of them that sticks out is the family station wagon. Now…for those of you who don’t know what a station wagon is – before there were mini-vans, if you had a big family, you had a car with a long back-end. Just imagine 12 people packed into a station wagon…no air conditioning…no seat belts…no vcr. Of course, you know what that means….we fought a lot. Mom did everything she could to keep the peace, but she constantly had to intervene to stop world war III because ‘Mom, she’s touching me’! Of course, I never did that…but I saw the others do it. No trip would be complete without Mom pulling out the Ultimate Threat – “you want Daddy to stop this car and come back there?” I don’t know how my parents stayed sane. Trips seemed to take forEVER – and within 30 minutes, Dad would have to start dealing with us kids constantly asking, ‘are we there yet’?
That’s what the second reading reminded me of. God told us he will make all things new…He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain. Sounds Great! So - Are we there yet?
Obviously not… we’re still crying…some of us here today have cried in the last 24 hours. The pain is fresh. We’re dealing with the failing health of parents, the rebellion of our teens whom we love, the stab in the back from somebody we thought was our friend, the alcoholic parent, …the death of a child. No…we’re not there yet…the pain is all too real.
The first reading reminds us that “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”. The pain we endure now is somehow necessary, somehow it’s leading us to a better place – to the new Jerusalem…heaven…but do we believe it? Do we really believe heaven will be better?
I think the first major trip our family took, I was probably 7 years old. We went all the way to Opryland. I didn’t have a clue what to expect – I just knew it was supposed to be awesome. Without an idea of what it would be like, it was easy to forget that it was worth going there. So, when Mom woke us up at 3 in the morning to start the drive to Nashville, I would just-as-soon have gone back to bed. Opryland surely can’t be as good as my bed right now. On the drive down, dealing with us kids fighting and noise, Mom probably wondered herself whether Opryland could POSSIBLY be worth all this hassle: The constant requests for ‘I gotta go to the bathroom’ or ‘can we stop for ice cream?’…and then there was the smell! 12 people in an un-a/c car…need I say more?….
But then we got there…naturally, we were one of the first cars in the parking lot because, well, when you’ve got 10 kids, you want to squeeze every minute out of any money you pay…so we had to be first in line! Standing there on the outside, waiting for the gates to open, we could watch the rides come to life as they ran through their safety checks – for the first time, I could SEE what it might be like – and we all got very excited! We could see the log ride coming down and splashing – the ferris wheel, roller coaster, and hear the music. The anticipation was almost unbearable for a young kid like me.
That’s what it’s like for us here today. We have a vague idea of what Heaven will be like, but it’s too hazy and undefined…we don’t REALLY know what to expect. It’s easy to question whether Heaven could possibly be worth the kind of pain and suffering we’re put through down here on earth. We have to keep reminding ourselves that God promised to make all things new – and as we stand on the outside looking toward heaven, we can almost see the log rides and the roller coasters. We have to keep reminding ourselves of how great it will be, so THAT belief will carry us through the trials and build our anticipation. No – we’re NOT there yet.
Ahhh…but one of the prophecies in that second reading HAS been fulfilled, and this should speak directly to our young ones who have just made or are about to make their 1st Communion. “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race…God himself will always be with the human race.” This prophecy is already happening in a couple of ways. First, God came to us in the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and has remained with us….remember where Jesus saide, “where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am!!” God also remains with us in the Blessed Sacrament – the Eucharist – Holy Communion….AND In each one of us .
There was something cool I just noticed last week. Been to Mass thousands of times and this is the first time it really hit me. You know how Fr. Ron holds his hands over the bread and wine and asks the Holy Spirit to change them into the B&B of Jesus – well, in the third Euch Prayer, there’s a line where he calls down the spirit to change US into the B&B. . That reminds me of the explanation Fr. Tom used to give sometimes: we ask God to change this normal bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, so that when WE come forward and receive, we BECOME the Body and Blood of Christ. If you have your journals with you, that would be a good one to write down and think about.
You boys and girls making your first communion – for all these years, you’ve been coming up in the communion line and receiving a blessing – and you keep wondering – am I there yet? Can I receive Jesus today instead of a blessing? Last week, you got your last blessing...Today, for the first time, you’re there. Why couldn’t you receive communion before today? You had to grow to be a disciple of Jesus. Your younger brothers and sisters aren’t old enough to UNDERSTAND that this bread really is Jesus…but YOU’ve grown up now. Have you ever been to Opryland or Kings Island or maybe Disney? Did you ever notice -
… right outside of every ride, they have some cartoon character with a sign that says – you must be at least as tall as I am to ride this ride. I remember the first one of these signs I saw. I thought – no way- you’ve GOT to be kidding! We came all this way and suffered all these trials only to be rejected at the door!? I’m thinking that’s kind of like Purgatory. We’re not rejected from the ride forever, just until we’ve grown a bit. I had to grow a few inches to ride the roller coaster. All of us have to grow into being disciples of Christ. How will we know when we’ve grown enough? At Opryland, we just had to stand next to the little cartoon character to measure-up. I remember standing there stretching my neck to try to make myself taller than the character. As Christians, Jesus told us that They’ll know we are Christians by our Love…THAT’s how we’re measured. Through all of our hardships, we grow in Love. THAT is how we enter the kingdom of God. When we get to the pearly gates, instead of a cartoon character standing there for us to measure ourselves, there’s a cross standing there. We have to measure ourselves against THE CROSS!! We must be as tall as I AM to enter! Our love is measured against Jesus himself! It’s just not possible for us to love THAT much… so we start to get worried – like we’ve come all this way only to be turned away at the door. Then Jesus steps up and picks us up and raises our heads above the cross so that we’re tall enough to go in. Then, we'll never have to ask that question again: “are we there yet?”