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Beyond Imagination
Deacon Mike Meyer / Wednesday, February 16, 2022 / Categories: Homilies

Beyond Imagination

Funeral Homily for Lynn Gallo

          Have you ever wondered what Heaven’s like? I think about it all the time, especially when a loved one dies. Now, we all know that Heaven is perfect, so my mind can’t help but imagine a heaven that’s perfect for me. That heaven would involve lots of chocolate—and my family and friends, of course, whose greatest joy in heaven would be bringing me lots of chocolate. But what about heaven for others? Grandma Gallo used to recall how much fun she had as a child sliding off a barn roof into a pile of manure. Does heaven for her involve a barn and a pile of manure? I’ll stick with the chocolate, thank you. Bobby’s heaven might involve a nice home brew and a baseball game. Kerry and Cindy would be locked in a room together for all eternity. No wait, that might be hell. For Lynn, I’d imagine a heaven filled with animals—horses, dogs, cats—with snow globes at every turn, and no Facebook fools to suffer not-so-gladly. My musings about Heaven are silly, of course, because our readings make clear that the perfect, eternal life, love, and happiness that is Heaven is beyond imagination, and that’s exactly what we all want for Lynn.

          So what do we know about Heaven? Our first reading depicts Heaven as a beautiful city where the sun and moon are displaced by the radiance of God’s glory, a light that dispels all darkness. Our Psalm likens Heaven to verdant pastures where we find rest and abundant food and drink. But truth be told, Heaven isn’t a place. Yes, we speak of Heaven as if it were a place, but that’s because human words and experience simply can’t describe something that’s beyond imagination. As Saint Paul tells us in our second reading, “eye has not seen, ear has not heard, and no heart has conceived what God has planned for those who love him.”

          Well, if Heaven isn’t a place, what is it? It’s a way of living; it’s living fully in the presence of God. It’s living as God taught us through the prophets and especially through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Heaven, then, isn’t just a future state we hope to attain someday, it’s a reality that’s available to us, at least in part, right now. As Pope Francis said, “The Kingdom of God is already present in this world and is growing, here and there, in different ways: like the small seed that grows into a great tree.”[1] Our God is an active God, always working to bring about the fullness of his Kingdom here on earth. His “angels fly back and forth from the divine source, much as bees fly to and from a flower, carrying the longings of earth to heaven and the peace of heaven to earth.”[2] Heaven is in our midst, but there’s more to come. We experience glimpses of Heaven when we choose to live as Jesus taught us: when we love God and love our neighbor; when we act as good stewards of God’s creation; and when we come together to worship God and receive Christ in Word and Sacrament. So while the fullness of Heaven is beyond imagination, we do know how to get there—through Jesus Christ.

          Jesus is unequivocal in our Gospel when he tells Martha that he is the resurrection and the life. As the one who is the resurrection and the life, Jesus has the power of life within him. So our hope for resurrection and eternal life hinges upon Christ’s resurrection and eternal life. How do we make that hope a reality? Again, we live as Jesus taught us to live. This is our faith: All who live as Jesus taught us to live will rise from the dead and enter eternal life. We need to believe it.

But sometimes it’s hard to believe, especially after witnessing the suffering and death of a loved one, like Lynn. We feel a lot like Martha, wondering when God’s going to show up and crying out, “Lord, if you had been here, our sister would not have died.” Theologians have spilled a lot of ink trying to explain why an all-loving God would permit suffering—with limited success, in my opinion. I can’t explain it any better. But I can tell you through my observations and my own experience that steadfast faith in God is worth the effort. When we put our faith in God alone, when we believe in God’s promise of eternal life, love, and happiness, like Martha did, our fear of death diminishes, and this “life becomes clad with a new loveliness, a new charm, a new strength.”[3] In short, when we believe like Martha did, we experience a slice of Heaven here and now and prepare ourselves for its unimaginable fullness at the end of time.

          Lynn believed. I know that because no one exuded a love for life more than Lynn. Lynn lived life loud and proud. Her presence filled every room she entered, and her laugh rattled the windowpanes. She fought cancer with every ounce of her being for years because she wanted to live, because she loved life. I believe that Lynn believed because when we love life, we love the one who is the resurrection and the life.

Most importantly, though, I believe that Lynn believed because Lynn loved. Lynn loved God’s creation, reserving a special place in her heart for animals. She loved horses and more dogs and cats than I could ever list in a homily. Most of her Facebook posts were pleas to help needy animals through financial support or adoption. Lynn loved us, too. Every encounter with Lynn began with a big kiss and an even bigger bear hug. I think I’ll miss that the most. She loved her family and friends, adorning our kids with glowstick necklaces at every holiday party, holding court on the deck at Jill’s pool party, and never missing a cousins’ dinner for as long as her health allowed. And when it didn’t, she loved us through social media, wishing us a happy birthday, celebrating our joys and successes, and never, never shying away from letting us know when we were being stupid. It’s not my job to canonize Lynn, but I can’t imagine Heaven without Lynn in it. Why? Because I believe that when we believe, we live in the presence of God. And I believe that Lynn believed.

          My silly musings about Heaven notwithstanding, I think about it seriously, too. A lot. While the chocolate would be a nice touch, I’m content to leave the details in God’s all-knowing, all-loving hands because I take great comfort in the assurance of our faith that God keeps his promises. I hope you do, too, because I’m sure that there’s nothing that all of us want more for Lynn right now—and for ourselves at the end of our time on earth—than a life of perfect love, happiness, and peace that’s beyond imagination.

Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-3. 19-20; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 2: 6-10; John 11:17-27

[1] Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013), 278.

[2] Robert Barron, The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2002), 120.

[3] William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 110.

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