Picture the scene, you've just died and you're now in a afterlife waiting area ready to see one of Heavan's admission assistants. You're sitting there among the old, the ill and the unlucky, but you're all counting your blessings because at least you get to spend eternity in Heaven.
The word heaven conjures up so many images, you can't help but think of all those things you once referred to as heavenly in the life you've just departed. Chocolate cake, Irish Cream, a warm open fire on a cold dark night, a moment of absolute safety in the arms of a lover, they were as close as you had been. That was until today. Now you're just a few minutes away from the rest of forever and your heart, if it were still working, would be missing beats at the excitement of the prospect.
You sit there in heavens waiting room leafing through the slightly tatty magazines left for 'transfers' on the coffee table and drinking lukewarm tea (coffee is bad don't forget) from a styrofoam cup. It's not the smartest of waiting rooms, which is a little surprising, but perhaps those in charge of heavenly admissions realise that even on a bad day, your stay in this room will pale into insignificance soon enough.
The chairs look like they're from the 1970's and the black and white tiled floor could do with being replaced. There are all kinds of notices on the wall in varying different conditions and colors. You're somewhat puzzled by the choice of music playing at an unintrusive volume. Who would have thought that a pan pipe version of "Shine Jesus Shine", by happy clappist Graham Kenrick, could have made it this far.
The man next to you coughs loudly and you do one of those sideways glances where you pretend not to actually look at him. He's old with feathery white hair and skin that looks like crumpled paper. Ordinarily you might feel bad for this man struggling against the cruelty of time. But according to a sun bleached notice above the (free) vending machine and flapping the the breeze of a nearby fan, today he'll get a new "glorious body" as per Philippians 3:20-21. Under the print of the notice a hand written addition reads "Please note special requests regarding new bodies are not entertained."
Through a door marked "Strictly No Admittance - Staff only" a plump lady with shoulder length black hair and spectacles half steps into the room. Everyone looks up at her and she licks her thumb and leafs through the pages on a bright orange plastic clipboard before calling your name without so much of an upward glance.
You stand up and the chair makes a shrill noise on the tiled floor. All the eyes in the room are then on you and the lady at the door is looking at your with raised eyebrows over the rim of her spectacles. "Step this way please" She says in a tone that reminds you of an old headmistress. And just as you did all those years ago when you were old enough to have a headmistress like this, you do exactly as you are told.
The door closes behind you with a thunk as you follow the lady down a corridor to a room signed 'admissions'. The room is lit by bright fluorescent strip lights and full of small cubicles areas. People are in most of the cubicles, presumably going through the heavenly admission process.
"It's inescapable isn't it, all this admin." You say in an effort to start a light conversation. But the comment just fades into the air and disappears like warm breath on a cold night. She shows you to a cubicle and tells you an admissions assistant will be with you shortly. You take a seat and rest an arm on the table that slightly wobbles. People are walking past with various documents and in the corner of the room someone is clumsily putting an ink cartridge into an old photo copier.
"Hi there! My name is David, sorry to keep you waiting." You stand and shake David's hand. He's a lanky man in an ill fitting shirt with a tie he should be arrested for wearing and an ID badge hanging around his neck with a small picture of him on it and the words "My name is David, welcome to Heaven."
"Please please, sit down, take a load off as they." He says with a broad smile in his voice as he walks around the other side of the desk and sits down.
"It's been a bit of a crazy day for you hasn't it?" He says while tapping a few keys on a beige keyboard in-front of a screen that is curiously bolted to the desk and security tagged.
"It's been a crazy day for us to." He continues in a more normal voice. "A school bus load of kids came in just before you, ever so sad really."
His tone then sharply take another upward turn.
"Still the little ones always get in for free around here, and from our point of view that makes things easier because we don't have to deal with the judgement department. They can take forever don't you know."
He stops tapping at the keyboard and sits back in his chair and takes a long look at you with a big smile on his face.
"So anyway... It's great to have you here." Then David suddenly leaps to his feet and exclaims "Where are my manners?! What kind of a welcome was that?"
He motions you to stand up, which you do slightly confused as to the odd goings on, then he comes around the desk and opens his arms wide tilts his head to one side and smiles.
"Welcome to Heaven Christian brother." He says as he engulfs you in a full on bone crushing body hug that only he is involved in because your arms are awkwardly still at your sides. Then he walks back around the desk and sits down again, as do you.
"So who saw that truck coming hey! Not you evidently." He laughs "But don't worry we'll have you all kitted out with a glorious new body soon enough."
Across the desk he passes you a pen and a few official looking forms.
"What we need to do now is just run through a few formalities then you'll be free to go and join the fun." He says.
You've still not said a word, just nodded in a slightly bewildered fashion.
"The top form is a Glorious Body requisition order so we need your sizes there, usual stuff, height, weight, same old same old. They take three days to get it made for you, but you'll be very pleased with it I'm sure. The pink one is accommodation allocation one and the green one is the the religion one."
"The religion one? You inquire.
"Yes, well you know there are so many different choices of Christianity these days of course. You've got you Episcopals, your Pentecostals, Your Free Churches so many these days. It used to be easier a couple of thousand years ago I can tell you."
You're feeling a little dazed, but pick up the pen and start filling in the forms regardless.
"If your a Catholic I'm afraid you won't be meeting Mary sorry to say."
"Mary? I thought..."
"Yes, there was a policy change a few years ago when things slowed down around here. Basically we let Catholics in now. They have to go through a little bit of retraining for a couple of weeks but we're happy to have them."
This day is turning out to be the strangest of your life, although technically you are of course dead. After the forms David leads you to the back of the room and to a service elevator. He presses the worn down button that lights up with a green arrow.
"Where are we going now?" You ask.
"Heaven awaits you brother! Isn't exciting. I love this bit." He says with the creepy looking grin that is beginning to make you feel like sin and depravity might not have been such a bad choice after all.
"But the service elevator?"
"Oh yes, well the proper heavenly entrance is a very big wide open golden staircase with a bright light at the top of it. It looks wonderful let me tell you, but there have been a few accidents there in recent years and so to be on the safe side we use the service elevators these days."
"You have to be kidding right." You laugh in disbelief.
"No, I'm afraid not. These are litigious times we live in after all. But don't worry, that'll be your only disappointment. Once your up there you'll be in heaven, so to speak!" Answers David with a laugh that you recognise from all those times when a Preacher has cracked a joke in Church. And with that the elevator doors creak open. A last awkward hug from David and the doors close as he waves at you as if he's known you for life.
You shake your head and smile to yourself. you've seen a lot of Christians just like David in your lifetime. He's unafraid to clap his hands out of time, to sing out of tune, and to do the 'Christian two step' in the isle of the Church to his favorite praise song. Back on earth he would have had a bumper sticker saying something like "In case of rapture this vehicle will be unmanned."
You wouldn't ordinarily choose to spend much time with David, but exchanging a handshake or even the occasional awkward hug on a Sunday was fine. You smile again as you think about David and group him with all the others like him that you have seen, met or once knew.
It's been an odd start, but like David just said, in just a few moments you'll be in heaven, forever and ever Amen. And as you near the top of the service elevator you begin to hear the music of heaven getting louder and louder. Then the tune becomes familiar to you, you've heard it before... Hang on... "Shine Jesus Shine?"