For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. -1 Cor 13:12
My parents are down from Waltham, MA to visit with us. Yesterday we got to talking about a possible Winter visit up north with the family. This excites Narek for several reasons, a main one being that he has never before experienced snow! Have any of you never seen snow? I suspect we would have more hands up if Sunday school was in session. Well if you haven’t seen snow, don’t feel bad, you are among roughly 40% of the population of the Earth who have never seen snow (most of India, Africa, Indonesia, etc).
Well, no big deal right? These days you don’t have to experience snow directly, you are exposed to it in so many ways. Narek and I have watched hockey and skiing. We read books about snow. I think he has even painted a picture or two with snow. And on special days, we will pack up Narek’s three items of winter clothes, his jacket, hat and gloves, and make the trek up Starkey road to Restaurant Depot. We don’t buy much of anything there, we just spend a good twenty minutes in their huge walk in freezer! So you see, you don’t really have to experience snow yourself to understand what it’s like, just turn on your TV, read a few books, talk to your relatives up north. Right? Well not so much. The best things in this life you can’t imagine until you experience it yourself. And in today’s reading, the Apostle Paul tells us that the same is true of our life to come. That we just can’t possibly imagine it, until we experience it for ourselves.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly,” Paul writes, “but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”-1 Cor 13:12. We have lots of good indirect information about God and His coming Kingdom. The books of the Old Testament tell the most amazing stories of God’s providence. The New Testament paints beautiful portraits of the kingdom of heaven. And of course Jesus himself is the embodiment of all that has been told of God and His Kingdom. But someday soon, says Paul, those stories, those portraits, even our image of Christ himself, will be replaced by our own joyous, unmediated personal experience. And it will be like the difference between a paper snowflake and the real thing.
In one of his sermons, C. S. Lewis tells a story of a boy that not only had never experienced snow, but had never experienced any of the beauty of this world. His mother gives birth to him while confined as a prisoner in a dungeon. Since the boy had never seen the outside world, his mother tried to describe it by making pencil drawings. But finally, when he and his mother were released from prison, the simple pencil sketches were transformed by the actual experience of our beautiful world. This is how it will be for each of us, we are promised, when we emerge from the twilight of this short life into the dawn of our everlasting life in Christ.
So what do we do in the meantime, if we trust that snow exists somewhere even if we haven’t experienced it, that heaven exists even though we’ve only caught glimpses of it? Well, we hold on to our coat and hat, even if now we have little use for it. For in the snow, we will not survive without it. Similarly we hold fast onto faith, hope, and love, says Paul, because in heaven we will not survive without them. We not only hold onto these 3 baptismal virtues of faith hope and love, we grow within them. Because the more we wear them, the more we find that God’s presence is revealed within us by these three things, most especially, Paul says, in love. Not the soft love of romance or the people we like, but the sacrificial love of longer commitments, of marriage and family life, of troubled people, even of our enemies. The love of Christ.
Lots of people have never seen snow. All of us have hardly experienced a quarter of what this world has to offer. How much more are we ignorant of the world to come. What we do know of the beauty of God and heaven, we discern through faith hope and love; and yet this is only a sketch. The day will come when we experience directly what we have heretofore known only in part. Our poor sketches of God will be tossed away in the dawn of his awesome triune presence, now and always; amen.