Churchy Term of the Week – Heaven

Eternal life in our enjoyment of God (BCP, p. 862). The unending fulfillment of salvation and happiness in relationship with God. Heaven has been equated with the beatific vision, and described in terms of perfect bliss and union with God. Many Christians emphasize heaven as a state of completed and eternal relationship with God, rather than a “place.” However, belief in heaven in terms of a place beyond known spatial limits is important in light of belief in the resurrection of the body. God is certainly not contained by any place.


The term “heaven” or “the heavens” has been applied to the sky, outer space, and the place where God lives with the angels and those who share God’s life. Although heaven is not understood to be “up” in spatial terms, scripture records that Jesus looked up to heaven when he blessed and broke the bread to feed the five thousand (Mk 6: 41), and that Jesus “was carried up into heaven” at the Ascension (Lk 24: 51). The Book of Revelation provides a vision of the glory of God in heaven. A vivid and detailed poetic description of heaven is provided by Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.


Christian worship includes many expressions of faith concerning heaven. The Lord’s Prayer is addressed to “Our Father in heaven,” and prays for God’s will to be done “on earth as in heaven” (BCP, p. 364). The Nicene Creed affirms that Jesus Christ “came down from heaven” for our salvation (BCP, p. 358). The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed affirm that Jesus “rose again” on the third day after his death, and that he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father (BCP, pp. 96, 358). The Sanctus in the eucharistic prayer, based on Is 6: 3, proclaims that heaven and earth are full of God’s glory (BCP, p. 362). We are to share the joy of heaven with God. Collect 8 from the prayers of the people states that God by the Holy Spirit has made us one with the saints in heaven and on earth (BCP, p. 395). The first of the additional prayers from the Burial of the Dead states that the spirits of those who die in the Lord still live with God, and that the “souls of the faithful are in joy and felicity” with God (BCP, p. 503). The liturgy expresses Christian belief that heaven is not just a remote place, but a relationship of love with God that can be known in daily life and especially in the church. The post-communion prayer at the Burial of the Dead thanks God for having “given us a foretaste of your heavenly banquet” (BCP, p. 498). Similarly, one of the sentences of administration for the Eucharist is “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven” (BCP, p. 365). As we can know (at least in part) the heavenly joy of God’s love in the present moment, we can also anticipate the eternal perfection of sharing God’s love which is yet to come.


Adapted from Don S. Armentrout’s An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians Church Publishing Inc., 2000.


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