Readings – Acts 7: 55-60; Psalm 31: 1-5,15-16; I Peter 2: 2-10; John 14: 1-14
Often, we see illustrations of the entrance into heaven. There are the pearly gates. There is the long-bearded St. Peter. Sometimes he is at a podium with a long scroll of names. Sometimes there is a long line before him. Sometimes there is a line that divides behind him, the sheep and the goats with some destined for ever-lasting blessing and others not. It’s almost like Santa and his list of those who have been naughty and those who have been nice. This is a very flawed image, a very inaccurate depiction.
Here is a much more accurate image. It is found on the top of Mt. Corcovado overlooking Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was built from 1922 to 1931, although originally conceived in the 1850s. Christ the Redeemer stands 98 feet tall and is built of concrete with soapstone facing. It was financed by the Catholic Circle to stand as a symbol of peace. The outstanding feature of the statue is his 22 feet outreaching arms. The Christ is smiling with arms and fingers, too, stretching as if to welcome and embrace all.
From our reading from Acts:
…filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
There were no pearly gates or ancient St. Peter with a long scroll of names. There was Jesus ready to embrace him.
From Psalm 31:
We take refuge in the embracing arms of Jesus.
From I Peter the initial image is of a mother holding, and nursing her child. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation–if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
And to complete the image of the outreaching arms of the loving Lord, we have Jesus at his last meal with his gathered disciples, reaching out and gently washing their feet with a pitcher of water, a basin, and a towel. His words to those first few faithful:
Do not let your hearts be troubled…Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…, and I go…[to] prepare a place for you.
He continued with guidance for them, and for us, too:
We are to live like him, and we are to love like him. Then he shared with them this often misunderstood sentence:
This is not exclusionary! This is inclusionary! Everyone will get the opportunity to be welcomed and embraced by Jesus. Remember the statue on the mountain in Brazil, arms and hands totally outstretched. Everyone will be redeemed. Everyone will be forgiven. Everyone will be embraced.
There are no barriers that will not be breached.
The stone was rolled away from the tomb, and Jesus arose.
The upper room doors were locked, and Jesus greeted them.
The Emmaus Road disciples were fleeing Jerusalem, and Jesus walked with them.
The disciples were in a boat fishing all night, going back to their usual patterns, and they caught nothing. Jesus approached them and suggested they cast their nets on the other side of the boat, and the catch almost swamped the boat.
There will be no ancient St. Peter with a list that separates us. There will be the welcoming, outreaching arms of Jesus that will gather us together. From Mathew 23: 37:
Jerusalem. Jerusalem. How often I’ve ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings The Message
There is a place for us all.
Jesus will redeem. Jesus will welcome. Jesus will embrace. In that embrace, we will know him as the Way, as the Truth, as the Life. In that embrace we will know everlasting life, we will know eternal life.