In Christian ministry, death is often imaged as a passageway leading from this world to the next, or a bridge uniting modes of existence, or a gateway through which we step out of the mortal and into the eternal. These are all perfectly appropriate images, but it is important to emphasize the continuity they represent, rather than the transformation.

What passes over the bridge is what is essential to who we are. What emerges on the yonder side of the gate is recognizably the same personality as the one who entered from the earthly side. Far from transforming us into saints or angels, death doesn’t even improve us. Death is transportation, not medicine. Who we are here and now is what we will be there and then: what is changed is the nature of the world in which we find ourselves.

But what a change that will be!

When God first refused Israel entry into the Promised Land and sent the nation back into the wilderness, it wasn’t to gain time in order to accommodate the Promised Land to them: it was to cultivate a new Israel, an Israel that could flourish in what the Promised Land had to offer.

As we approach Heaven, most of us have much more in common with the first Israel than with the second.

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