Heaven in Ordinary
That we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not things eternal.
The glory of the Book of Common Prayer is its selection of memorable prayers used as collects in the Eucharist. There are phrases that have helped me consider the truths of my Christian faith. The Collect for Trinity IV is such a prayer.
On one level the prayer reminds us that everything in this life will either help us on our way to heaven or it will hinder us. This can be no half-measure. We are called to live in this world conscious of our citizenship in and of the next. This world is temporal – the same root from which we get our word ‘temporary’ – the next world is eternal – not just going on for ever, but having values that are absolute and true. We can so easily get caught up in the vagaries of this life that we can mislead ourselves into thinking that this world’s values are all we need to worry about.
But the life that God promises his people is more than money, health, fame – these are all temporal, and therefore, temporary measures. Life in God is eternal, measured by qualities that lie at the root of all that is good and perfect and lasting. The prayer stresses that we should not get so caught up on the temporal matters of this world, that we forget the things that really matter.
But this prayer goes further than just that. We cannot cut ourselves off from the temporary reality of this world as though it doesn’t exist. We cannot deny that we are people of this physical world, and that the affections and experiences of this life contribute to the environment in which not only our bodies grow, but also our minds, our hearts and our faith properly develop. Above all, we remember that Jesus himself really lived and experienced this world, and it was from what this world offered that he made of his life a sacrifice acceptable to God. He did not pass through things temporal as though they did not truly exist, but he did use things temporal to reveal things eternal.
We do not pray that we may avoid all things temporal in order to keep a hold on things eternal. Rather, we pray that we may so pass through things temporal, that is, that we might use the experiences of this life, in order to tighten our hold on the things of heaven. This means that all that happens to us in this life is capable of helping us, not hindering us, on our way to God. This means that pain, just as much as joy, can be a vehicle to carry us on our journey to heaven and that just as in the life of Jesus, disappointments, opposition, hostility – even death – can be the stuff from which eternity is experienced.
Too often it is assumed that religion should mean a charmed existence free from sorrow, worry or pain. This is not the Christian religion. What we believe is that all that rich experience which made up the life of Jesus was essential to his mission to bring the world to God. And because it is into his life that we have been baptized, all this richness – with its ups and downs – is there for us also to use and benefit from spiritually. The things temporal have to be passed through, but we ask that we may do so in the same way as Jesus, so that we do not ultimately lose the things eternal.
Chris Collins is Vicar of St. Aidan’s, Sunderland.