Mary Slessor, an English missionary residing in West Africa, received word of the death of her mother and sister. She then wrote to a friend, “Heaven is now nearer to me than Brittan.” When I used to think of heaven, I would think of the wonderful biblical descriptions; the streets of gold, the beautiful colors, the tree of life, the end of sadness and sickness and disease. I would picture a perfect world with complete harmony and ultimate fulfillment of my desire to know more about God. When my dad died in 1979, I began to think of heaven a little differently. It was a great place to go before (and of course it still is) but now I knew someone who was there. I had someone there. Then when my Mom died in 1985, it became a more interesting place yet, with a deeper value to me for reasons other than the joys and pleasures I’d experience. When my sister died at 48 years of age in 1993, heaven started to look more like home for me. There was another addition on Sunday. Kathy’s mom passed away her residency in heaven just made it a little more interesting to me. I think I’m beginning to understand the biblical description of all the patriarchs, as well as Moses and others. When they die it is recorded that they “were gathered to their people.”

In my 65 years, especially in the last 20, I’ve seen many friends and relatives leave this world for the next. I don’t so much think of heaven in terms of what wonders and pleasures and joys await me as much as I do as a community of my friends and loved ones who have gone on before me. The residents of heaven are all my friends and relatives. Remarking on the same emotions, one commentator wrote, “It sometimes seems that so many of my loved ones have gone there that I know more people in heaven than I do on earth.” I can’t help but think, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

In her book, Who Walk Alone, Margaret Evening tells of a dream that helped her understand the nature of heaven and hell. She writes, “In the dream, I visited Hell, where the sub-Warden showed me round. To my surprise, I was led along a labyrinth of dark, dank passages from which there were numerous doors leading into cells. It was not like Hell as I had pictured it at all. In fact, it was all rather religious and “churchy”! Each cell was identical. The central piece of furniture was an altar, and before each altar knelt (or, in some cases, were prostrated) green-grey spectral figures in attitudes of prayer and adoration. ‘But whom are they worshipping?’ I asked my guide. ‘Themselves,’ came the reply immediately. ‘This is pure self-worship. They are feeding on themselves and their own spiritual vitality in a kind of auto-spiritual-cannibalism. That is why they are so sickly looking and emaciated.’ I was appalled and saddened by the row upon row of cells with their non-communicating inmates, spending eternity in solitary confinement, themselves the first, last and only object of worship. The dream continued . . . but the point germane to our discussion here has been made. According to the teaching of the New Testament, Heaven is community. My dream reminded me that Hell is isolation.”