Chapter 3 Fran

Jesus tried to make conversation, but Fran was still clearly upset with him. The two had left through the back door in the kitchen as it was time for Jesus to show Fran where she’d be living. Sensing her mood, Jesus kept quiet until she spoke again.

Fran stopped walking and waited for Jesus to turn to her.

“Look here,” she said briskly. “Why wasn’t I warned about all this? I find it entirely unfair that I was told that all I had to do was believe and I would be saved.”

Jesus sat down on a nearby rock.

“Who says you won’t be saved?” he asked.

“Well, this doesn’t feel like salvation,” snapped Fran. “What about ‘For there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus’?”

“Do you feel condemned?” asked Jesus, sincerely.

“Actually I do!”

“Why don’t you tell me what you were expecting?” asked Jesus.

Fran came closer to Jesus. She opened her mouth to answer him, but realised she didn’t have anything to say that didn’t sound like a cliché. Her face brightened as she remembered more Bible verses.

“Streets paved with gold... lots of angels... and people I know from my church.”

“Well, all of that can be found here,” responded Jesus. “Do you remember the bit about the New Earth?”

“Yes,” replied Fran. “God said he would create a new heaven and a new earth.”

“All of creation is being made new. And that includes each person.”

“Right,” said Fran, trying to show she could listen.

“But everyone starts at different points on the journey. We condemn no one; rather we encourage each person to become more Christlike.”

“Like you, then?” said Fran with a touch of sarcasm.

“Our Father, I call him Papa, asked me to be like Him, to always show agape love and to demonstrate that he considers each person to be a cherished child. His desire is that all His children live in agape love. When they do, they will join me in God’s household and live the abundant life we promised.”

“Yes, so all Christians are anointed,” insisted Fran.

“Well, not exactly. Some have knowledge in their head about the Bible, and they obey their religion with devotion; but they may never have known the anointing that comes from following me.”

“But I did follow you!” exclaimed Fran, frustrated by the inference that she hadn’t.

“What did that look like in your life?” asked Jesus.

“I worshipped you. I… I… I took the bread and wine. And I kept away from the horrible ungodly things in the world.”

“You mean, you followed the Christian religion and cut yourself off from people who didn’t fit your idea of what it means to be a good person?”

Jesus was telling the truth, but Fran felt increasingly angry with him.

“Did you ‘love your enemies, and bless those who persecute you’? And did you ‘not judge, unless you want to be judged’?”

Fran remembered how she had despised those who failed to match up to her expectations.

“I was trying to keep myself pure!” she burst out.

“And in so doing, you lost the heart of what I taught and how I lived.”

Fran was at a crossroads. She could accept what Jesus was saying or she could try to defend herself. She wavered for a moment before her emotions boiled up again. Jesus was an easy target for her rage.

“It’s alright for you!” she hissed. “You’re God!”

Jesus simply nodded as though he understood her and said nothing. He waited for her to continue.

“You couldn’t possibly get anything wrong!”

Jesus answered her calmly “Yet I was crucified.”

Fran was unable to answer that. She remembered as a little girl looking up at the stained glass window in church. Most Sundays she would look at the face of Jesus on the cross and feel sad that he had died so painfully.

“I know,” she said, calming down a little.

Jesus set off and looked back at Fran, inviting her to follow.

“Where are we going anyway?” asked Fran sullenly.

“There’s a community waiting for you. It’s where you’ll live for the time being.”

“The time being?” repeated Fran. “I thought this was eternity?”

“Time is different when you know you will not die. But time still exists. Seconds, minutes, hours all still work. We have the same measurements of time as the Previous Age; we’re not trying to confuse anyone.”

Fran wasn’t really listening. She was still trying to process that this was really ‘it’, and that she would never die.

“So, I won’t die? What if I jumped off a cliff?”

Jesus laughed. “Nearly everyone asks that. Your body is totally upgraded from your previous one. You will not age, and your body will recover from any damage. Your skin feels the same, but it will always repair itself. Your organs will always recover from injury. You’ll just have to test what it can do, won’t you? Remember, you’ve already died and been given a new body”

For the first time, a smile passed over Fran’s face. She looked at her limbs and was very glad to feel so strong and healthy.

“So, I am in Heaven,” she mused out loud.

Jesus turned and started along the path.

Fran walked just behind Jesus in order to avoid conversation. She was impatient to see where she would be living.

They crested the brow of a hill and, looking down, they could see a village. The houses were neat cottages and looked homely.

“Nearly there,” he said.

Walking up from the village was a lady wearing a bright white trouser suit and a man sporting a white T-shirt and white flannels.

“Sylvia, hello!” called Jesus.

“Hello, Jesus!” she called out and waved.

“Jesus,” cried Carlos with delight. “So good to see you!”

Soon they were close enough for introductions.

“This is Fran,” said Jesus. “And Fran, this is Sylvia and Carlos. They will be with you in the community.”

“Hello Fran. Welcome to your new home. Come, I’ll show you around.”

“Thank you both. I’ll see you later,” said Jesus, and he turned to Fran.

“Fran, this is a good community for you. Please remember this if it feels hard. Don’t forget, we love you.”

Fran nodded sullenly, feeling patronised. She didn’t make eye-contact with Jesus, who put a hand on her shoulder before he began to walk back the way they’d come.

Fran was relieved he’d gone.

“How did you find your time with Jesus?” asked Sylvia as they headed towards the village.

“Not what I was expecting. Why is he so… condescending?” replied Fran.

“He is in charge here, you know,” said Carlos cheerfully.

“Hmm,” responded Fran indignantly.

They rounded a corner and Sylvia stopped next to a little house. It was made of stone and had wooden beams that could be seen supporting the walls. The roof was thatched, and Fran was rather pleased with the chocolate-box feel of the village.

They heard the sound of footsteps descending stairs in the small cottage next door and a key turning in the lock. The door opened a few inches and a face peered through the gap.

“Hello Imelda,” said Sylvia. “This is Fran, your new neighbour.”

The door opened a little wider and a stern face looked Fran up and down. Without saying a word, Imelda turned back to Sylvia.

“Really? Must she be so close? Can’t she go somewhere else?”

“I’m afraid not. Come on, you’ve only just arrived yourself. I did tell you that there would be others.”

Fran was feeling rejected and irritated by Imelda already.

“It’s ok. I’ll go somewhere else.”

Sylvia turned to Fran. “I’m afraid that’s not possible. This is the place reserved for you.”

“Now look here,” Fran said abruptly. “This is Heaven, isn’t it? Surely we all get what we want?”

“I know it’s perhaps not what you thought it would be, and yes, this is the New Earth, but you will have to put aside your images of Heaven from the Previous Age. Everyone outside of the city is in a process. You included, Fran.”

“Outside the city?”

Fran stopped short; a terrible realisation dawning.

She turned to Carlos with wide eyes filled with fear. “I thought only the ungodly were outside the city?” she gasped.

Fran’s knees buckled and she fell to the ground.

“But… but… I’m resurrected! I’m in a new body! I’m a bloody Christian! Surely I’m meant to be in the city with the angels and saints and get to wear a crown?”

Sylvia sat down on the grass beside Fran. Imelda opened her door wide and looked at them with a smirk. Carlos stood some distance away, allowing the two women to talk.

“Ha!” scoffed Imelda. “Welcome to Hell.”

Fran looked up at Imelda and glowered with rage.

Carlos turned and simply looked at Imelda.

“What? Surely I’m allowed to stand at the entrance of my own house?” she asked defiantly and folded her arms.

Carlos sighed.

“Hell?” said Fran, her voice trembling. “I can’t be in Hell. Where is the fire? And the devils?”

“Those ideas about Hell were never the reality,” said Sylvia. “The language of fire was always about a refining process, like when precious metal is smelted and purified. Here, outside the city, is where people are in the process of having the dross removed from their lives. This is where the learning and the growing happens.”

“Ok! Ok!” said Fran, suddenly becoming animated, flapping her hands. “I’m sorry! I’m very sorry for all the bad things I did. I got some things wrong. I’m not perfect. I’m only human. I promise I won’t do those things again.”

“Pathetic,” crowed Imelda from the doorway.

Sylvia looked at Fran. “I understand this is traumatic for you, but you can’t just say the words and expect it to be the same as having gone through the process. The idea of just saying the right things shows that you still have much to learn.”

Fran let out a slow and terrible groan of frustration.

Sylvia stood close to her.

“This isn’t the end of your story, but it is the next chapter.”

Fran pulled away from her and sat there, hugging her knees. Several minutes passed.

“Would you like to see your new home?” asked Sylvia, calmly.

Fran’s face was stormy as she got up and marched into the cottage. Sylvia followed, but Carlos stayed outside to make sure they weren’t disturbed.