Helen has gone home at the age of 98 years, 11 months and 16 days. She was 84 when she asked me to conduct her memorial service. Her words were, “Would you preach my funeral?” I replied, “Helen, how in the world do I respond to a question like that? Do I say, ‘I will be glad to?’ I probably won’t even be around; you will outlive all of us.”
We had enjoyable visits in her home. We would talk about the church, and she would tell me about her travels and about her husband, Charlie, who had died years before. But in the later years during every visit she always, without fail, got around to asking, “Do you think there is a heaven?”
It isn’t an unusual question. Soon or late, we all ask it of others or of ourselves. It is as old as Job who wondered, “If a man die will he live again?”
I got in the habit of saying, “Helen, you and I both know there is a heaven.” Often, I would quote Emily Dickinson: “I never saw a moor, I never saw a sea, Yet I know what heather’s like and what a wave must be. I never spoke with God or visited in heaven. Yet certain am I of the spot as if the chart were given.” You know, poetry comes closer to the truth than just about anything.
But what Helen really wanted was something from God’s Word. I would say, “We believe because Paul wrote, ‘We know if the earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have a house not made with hands, a building of God, a home eternal in the heavens.’ Mainly we believe because Jesus said, ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself that where I am there you may be also.’”
Invariably she always asked, “What do you think heaven is like?” I would answer, “None of us really know. Jesus was sure about heaven but he didn’t tell us much about it. He seemed to believe that heaven was so wonderful we are not capable of even imagining what it is like. ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man the wonderful things God had prepared for those who love him.’”
Helen would say, “I have always believed there is a heaven. I just wondered.” She wasn’t looking for proof. She just wanted reassurance. And that is what you and I want too, isn’t it?
Helen has gone home now. She knows firsthand and leaves us to wonder how beautiful heaven must be. She is at home with Charlie and all those she “has loved long since and lost awhile.” She is at home with her Father and our Father, her God and our God.
Sunday is Easter Sunday. Churches in the Rockdale area will be celebrating the other side of “The Passion.” I say to people, “If you don’t go to church any other time, you ought to go on Easter.” Go. You will find a welcome and the reassurance all of us seek.
Rev. Nichols is Minister Emeritus of First Christian Church in Temple where he served as senior minister for 23 years before retiring. He writes a religious column for several Central Texas newspapers.