On two occasions around the year 2000, I attended graduations at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville Virginia. I watched these events from a unique perch. I was the guest of a member of the faculty or administration who lived in one of the multi-story “pavilions.” We were on the balcony overlooking all the families and friends gathered on both sides of “the Lawn” with a wide aisle down the middle for the graduates. Thomas Jefferson designed the Rotunda, the pavilions, the rows of student rooms, and the Lawn. He called it “an Academical Village.”
A few days after one of these graduations, I had a dream that I think was inspired by the experience. It was a dream of heaven. I want to share it with you because I hope that you will experience, as I do, great joy when you picture it.
Let me first describe the graduation scene. And I include photographs to help.
To my far left was a stage for speakers and honorees. To my far right was the Rotunda. Graduates would come from around the Rotunda and appear at the top of some steps. They descend in an academic procession, one informal group after another, down some steps, and then walk on “the Lawn.” The Lawn slopes toward the left.
When graduates appear with a group of their fellow graduates at the top of the steps of the Rotunda, some members of their families and friends down the Lawn recognize them—often by balloons they carry. This would cause an eruption of volleys of cheers, of huzzahs! These eruptions occurred over and over again as each cohort of five or six graduates appears. And the eruptions would occur again as the graduates walk within sight of their families and friends. There’d be three thousand graduates. Three thousand eruptions when the graduates are first recognized. Three thousand more eruptions when they draw nearer their families and friends. All within 45 or 60 minutes. A continuous cacophony of sound! How festive! How joyful! While the graduates are in their black gowns, but their balloons are colored, and their families and friends are in bright colors.
Each time I have attended a University of Virginia graduation, I experience tremendous joy upwelling in my heart. There are no tears except tears of joy. And I have thought, “This is heavenly bliss.” – And, folks, I’ve not even been the graduate!
One side of The Lawn at the University of Virginia, showing three “pavilions” and a balcony.
One side of The Lawn, showing three pavilions, and the Lawn’s slope down from the Rotunda.
The next two photographs populate this scene. The top one shows the graduates walking away from the Rotunda.
The bottom one shows the graduates walking toward their seats in front of the stage.
Now for my dream: Like most dreams, the dreamer just happens to find him or herself in a spot. I noticed first that someone was standing about a foot in front of me, and people were on either side of me, and more people behind me. I had no idea how I got to this spot. I looked around and saw that I was in a crowd, a large crowd. I could see over the heads of the people in front of me but it wasn’t too easy. We were all standing on grass that sloped slightly down in front. About 50 irregular rows ahead of me, the ground started sloping upwards and there were people on that slope as far as the eye could see. So it was a kind of valley. There were no buildings and I don’t recall seeing any trees, but the grass made it obvious that I was not in a wasteland, a desert. People on my side of the slope were facing people on the other side of the slope. The crowd was abuzz with anticipation. I had no idea about what.
Then I heard some cheering and it grew louder and louder. I looked to my right. I could see a man walking from my right towards my left along the lowest seam of this valley. Because of the slope and because he was walking on some sort of rise, we could all see him from his knees up. Since I couldn’t see his feet, it appeared that he was gliding. I didn’t notice it at first but behind him were people walking a few abreast in columns as far as the eye could see.
As this man got closer to my position, I could see he was in white robes. I recognized Him as Jesus. The crowd was cheering wildly and continuously. Constant eruptions of joy. Over and over again. I said to myself, “THIS -- IS -- GLORY! It’s loud. It’s thunderous. It should hurt my ears, but it doesn’t. Not here in this place. Maybe there’s a ‘time’ for solemn, but this isn’t it!”
The people walking behind Him were dozens, hundreds, thousands?, of men and women and children, also dressed in white. I sensed that they were the martyrs.
During this entire time, I sensed a presence, and saw in the corner of my eye a white light, coming from the left, as if from a stage, but I never looked directly at it. My focus was on Jesus. When I think about the dream, I use the word “brooding” to describe the presence. Not in the sense of “depressing” or “threatening,” but in the sense of “filling a scene” or how a hen warms her chicks.
As Jesus walked, His arms were outstretched from His sides. So, one to His left and one to His right, with the palms facing forward. He’d move His arms slowly a few degrees back and then a few degrees forward. It was a slightly sweeping motion. I did not think He was doing this to acknowledge the cheers. Rather, He was gesturing to the Father that it was these, all of these, every single one of these, on His left and on His right, as far as the eye could see, whom He had saved and had brought to the Father. He was walking to the Father. I, we all, could sense the intensity of the love between Jesus and His Father.
That love was engulfing all of us, flooding our senses. We were bursting. What else could it be except the Spirit?
I awoke in a rush. I awoke before Jesus had moved much to the left from the center of my field of vision.
I think this dream is consistent with the Scriptures. First, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast. (Matt. 22:1-14; Luke 14:7-14, 15-24)
Second, there are at least two instances in the Gospels when Jesus is acclaimed by crowds. In one, He miraculously fed a crowd of 5,000 who had come to hear Him in a remote place. I believe that in Franco Zeffirrelli’s Jesus of Nazareth (1977), the crowd is depicted as recognizing that a miracle had occurred, rising to their feet and cheering Him wildly. This seems consistent with the Gospel account that some wanted to make Him king then and there. (John 6:15)
The second instance is Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. It is described in the following way:
--“The whole city was in turmoil,” asking, “Who is this?” (Matt. 21:11)
--“The whole group of disciples joyfully began to praise God at the top of their voices for the miracles they had seen, saying ‘Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!’” This was too much for the Pharisees who asked Him to tone down His disciples. Jesus replied, “If they were silent, the stones would cry out!” (Luke 19:37-40)
--The Pharisees said the whole world was running after Him! (John 12:19)
In addition to these reports in the Gospels, I believe the dream is consistent with, and the dream comes to my mind whenever I hear, readings from the Book of Daniel on the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6, and also the readings from the Book of Revelation on the feast of All Saints on November 1 and the Fourth Sunday of Easter (in Cycle C):
"Thrones were set up and the Ancient One took His throne. His clothing was bright as snow, and the hair on His head as white as wool; His throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire. A surging stream of fire flowed out from where He sat. Thousands upon thousands were ministering to Him, and myriads upon myriads attended Him. The court was convened and the books were opened.
"As the visions during the night continued, I saw: One like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven. When He reached the Ancient One and was presented before Him, the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; His kingship shall not be destroyed."
"After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation comes from our God, Who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.' All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed: 'Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.'”
"Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, 'Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?' I said to him, 'My lord, you are the one who knows.' He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in His temple. The One Who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb Who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:9-17)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes heaven this way:
“This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: ‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.’” (Paragraph 1057, quoting 1 Cor. 2:9)
In conclusion, whenever I see reports of graduations or listen to these readings, I remember this dream, this vision, this scene, this experience, this glimpse of heaven where the Kingdom of Heaven is like a graduation day. Remembering this dream, it energizes me. I want to be part of this. It makes me hate any obstacle (sin) that would keep me away. I am reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matt. 11:12) I am like those who would take heaven by force. Benson’s Commentary on this passage says:
The spirits of men are so excited and animated by a desire after this kingdom, that it is, as it were, attacked like a besieged city, men of all sorts pressing to get into it, with a violence like that of men who are taking a place by storm. As if he had said, “Multitudes are flocking around me, to be instructed in the nature of my kingdom; and some, who were formerly of most licentious characters, and looked upon as utterly unfit to be subjects of the Messiah’s kingdom, are resolutely set on enjoying the blessings of it.”
I gladly share this dream with you.
Spero New columnist James Thunder is attorney who works in the Washington metropolitan area.