Michael Barlowe, canon at Church of the Advent, celebrated his fiftieth birthday this morning by delivering a sermon on Eternal Life. Eternal Life, he said, was what we are kept in by grace. Eternal Life is the state of oneness with God's creation, as Christ at Pentacost begs for the spirit to descend upon his apostles and "make them one" even as Christ is one with the father. Eternal Life is then about community, sustained passion, all happinesses and joys lifted up and shared with each other, all sins and bitterness put into a place where they can be reconciled.
Damnation, say the angry atheists, is what keeps them from belief. I can't remember the last time I was in a church where damnation was preached about. The church as it exists in civil society has come a long way since its medieval origins and the abuse of the metaphor of hellfire. Hellfire may rage in politics, in academia, in unkindness and disconnection, but neither hellfire nor Eternal Life are certainties for most of the Christians I know, as a physicla location to which living bodies are resurrected. They are certainties of experience: and as such, metaphors that may tell us a lot about the good life and what is worth leaving behind us. We become one with Eternal Life such that Eternal Life lives after us.
On the other hand, woe be us if this means nothing more than the "Eternal Fire of Purfication" to which the bodies of cremated penitential middle-class posers are consecrated in Graham Green novels. Give us Eternal Life. Save us from pettiness. Save us from stupid metaphors, and abusive vicars, and paranoid fantasies of demons and angles. Isn't that the prayer?