As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
It has never been very hard for Christians to imagine what hell is like for the very simple reason that we experience it so often on earth. The readers of Dante’s Divine Comedy often find the Inferno much more interesting than the Purgatorio or the Paradisio. Again because the Inferno is simply so familiar. Hieronymus Bosch could paint horrifically detailed pictures of hell by just amplifying the sufferings of ordinary human life. If he was around today in Dallas he would paint a picture of a traffic jam on 635. Come to think about that is exactly what his paintings look like: a traffic jam of the damned. But try as we will the idea of heaven eludes us. There are plenty of pictures and images from the Holy Scripture and from Christian art which could supply the want. But mostly all they tell us is that there is not here. For that much we can give thanks. What possible attraction could there be for heaven to be merely an extension of this life?
Of course we tell ourselves “don’t worry about it” and that will put the problem off at least until the next friend dies and then we start wondering again. “He’s in a better” place we tell ourselves. By which I think we mean that heaven is a place where all unhappiness is excluded. Or we think of heaven as a place where we will be reunited with those we love. All these ideas are perfectly true and comforting but we would still like a full-colored brochure of heaven with detailed pictures of accommodations and amenities and menu and maybe even an impressive discount on the price.
The closest we will ever get to that is the Ascension of Jesus. It is that Jesus has gone there and is there that makes heaven a desirable goal. “To depart and be with Christ” is St. Paul’s sale pitch. So little and so much are we given to know about the ascended Christ, his destiny and ours.
Yet paradoxically, at least for Christians, it is this bit of information which makes heaven familiar. Jesus says “Lo, I am with you always.” That is the one thing we know for sure about here and there. Admittedly his presence with us here seems intermittent, although we know that is just because we are intermittent, busy with this and that, chasing rainbows, run ragged, stuck in our habits, dark nights, and long dry spells. Still even in the midst of all our fickle passions we find him: in the reception of the Blessed Sacrament which makes all the difference, in prayer before the Tabernacle, in prayers answered and even prayers unanswered, in a word from the Gospels which shows a different way to live, in the moment when suddenly it all makes sense to follow Jesus and nothing else makes any sense at all. That is heaven calling to us. That is Jesus calling to us.
Just as in this life we may think that we will have trouble finding our way around heaven but it is really easy: look for Jesus.
As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight