I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
And all her train were hurl’d.
Henry Vaughan, from 'The World'Time and eternity are not the same thing at all, which may seem like an obvious kind of a thing to say, except that we are too often tempted to imagine eternity as an endless progression of time; rather than, as Vaughan, I think rightly, pictures it, endless, resting light.
Like Vaughan, too, I have caught glimpses, at times especially when death has seemed closer than otherwise, of a state where time has no longer any dominion, any more than what we commonly imagine as death: a state of peace and limitless love, which seemed the same thing as light, for all was light. This is a condition more to be longed for than feared, and profoundly welcoming, accepting, healing.
We sometimes seem to worry, to wonder about judgement, and about Christ as our "advocate in Heaven" (1 John 2.1), and yet Paul's words in the first chapter of his letter to the Colossians seem closer to my own heart:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together... through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1.15-17,20Christ is our peace, and he is himself the love and mercy of God (that aspect of the triune God that is all love and mercy). Perhaps the very pain of prayer is the means of that mercy in us for those for whom we pray, our own small participation in the work of the cross. But we are at the edge here of what human language can do, and I am no apostle. All I do know, and that for certain, is that his love and mercy are in all and through all, and that we can never fall out of that love - and that through that love we cannot be other than loved into eternity itself.