Today we come to what is basically the end of the biblical story.
In the Gospel reading:
Jesus tells his friends that he is going away soon:
That he will ascend into heaven:
And send the Holy Spirit:
To be the reminder of all that Jesus brings.
And we also hear from the last chapter,
Of the last book of scripture:
In the real finale:
The glorious picture of this heaven that Jesus:
And ultimately many others, will ascend to.
John, the author of the Book of Revelation:
Describes heaven as a city:
A city that is the center of the new heaven and the new earth.
He talks about it’s beauty:
The new Jerusalem:
A golden city, and yet crystal clear like a rare jewel.
The wall surrounding this four-square city has a dozen gates:
With three gates on each side:
Each a giant lustrous pearl
Each one guarded by an angel.
It’s a stable city:
Not resting on a single foundation:
But on TWELVE foundations:
One atop another:
Each foundation made of a different precious stone.
Hearing of this new Jerusalem:
As John describes it:
Brings a sense of glory:
There’s a desire for such fancy and regal living in splendor and majesty.
It seems like a picture from a storybook or fairy tale.
And because of that, Revelation has often been overlooked.
But it’s important to know, that this book:
This biblical finale:
Is much more than a fairy tale image.
It can help us recognize glimpses of heaven that burst into our lives.
For when we live by faith:
Heaven is not a far and alien country:
Instead: we find ourselves dwelling--
At least some of the time--
In the suburbs of this New Jerusalem.
And moments come when we are granted sights of its golden crystalline splendor,
Often when we least expect this to happen.
There are three points about heaven that influence these glimpses:
So First, lets talk about heaven as a community.
The Biblical story itself takes us from a garden with only one couple:
To a vast city with a cosmopolitan population:
The New Jerusalem.
This alone tells us to put away any small, narrow, cramped view of heaven.
The new Jerusalem is a city with people of every kind:
From every nation.
It is the capital of the God who delights in diversity.
If you want to catch a little glimpse of heaven:
Go to a playground in a park in the summer:
Where dozens of kids dash about in perpetual motion:
Each on a different trajectory:
That hubbub of activity, and diversity is a small slice of what heaven will be like.
Second: Heaven is a place of healing.
We hear about this as John describes the landscape of the city.
There’s a river:
A beautiful river:
The river of the water of life:
Bright as crystal.
On the banks of the river appear rows of magnificent trees:
Bearing fruit not once or twice a year:
But a super tree:
That’s exceedingly fruitful.
And John even goes on to say that:
“The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
The healing of nations!
So heaven has medicine for the wounds that separate and scar nations on earth.
Meaning that the new Jerusalem is a place of reconciliation.
Heaven is where wounds are healed.
Where brokenness gives way to wholeness.
And hatred gives way to love.
All because of the healing leaves of the tree:
A tree that bears the shape of a cross.
And if national wounds can be healed:
So too can smaller but no less painful wounds:
Strife between families and classes and groups and individuals.
All the wounds we carry through this world are healed in heaven.
So if you want to see a bit of heaven on earth:
Go someplace where reconciliation is real:
Where wounds big and small are treated and healed.
Or bring this heaven to earth yourself.
Work for justice and peace.
Or bring it even closer to home,
And forgive someone who may not deserve it:
Maybe even yourself.
You’ll catch a bit of heaven’s glimmer:
You’ll be in the suburbs of the New Jerusalem.
Finally, heaven is a place of vision.
Did you notice the references about light in the passage from revelation?
Light that allows us to see?
We hear that the light of the new Jerusalem IS God’s glory:
And its lamp is the lamb.
By this light the nations will walk.
The gates will never be shut by day,
And there will be no night.
And through that light:
His servants will worship him:
They will see his face:
And his name will be on their foreheads.
That God’s servants will be marked as ones belonging to God:
Just as the church marks the foreheads of the newly baptized with the sign of the cross:
The seal of the spirit:
Marked as Christ’s own forever.
In the new Jerusalem,
The servants are not only marked:
Are not only worshipping God:
But through the light:
They are able to actually SEE God.
This: The sight of God:
Is what above all else, makes heaven: Heaven.
Here in our present life:
We use sacraments and signs,
Images and words that suggest the divine reality to our hearts and minds.
Yet in heaven: we shall see God face to face.
On this earth, we encounter God amid the shadows and uncertainties of life.
In the New Jerusalem, we shall see God in the bright light of eternal day:
And in the delightful rest of eternal Sabbath.
We do not live in that great city right now.
But from time to time we find ourselves in one of its suburbs.
And so, as John might put it:
We catch a glimpse of its golden crystalline walls:
Its gates of stupendous pearl.
And this glimpse may give us a refreshment of hope and courage.
An assurance in time of hardship.
A beauty that delights and longs for more.
The creator of all things:
The lord of all time is versatile in giving us glimpses of that great city:
The great city that is actually a reminder of our true home.
We cannot dictate when these glimpses will happen:
But we can leave ourselves open to recognize and welcome them when they occur.
We can learn and re-learn that heaven is a community:
A place of healing:
A place of vision.
We can long for heaven in its fullness,
And also enjoy the glimpses that appear to us now in moments of vision,
Healing, and community.
Then, when we come to the new Jerusalem, it will not seem like a strange and alien city:
But will feel a lot like home, as we see God, face to face.
At that time, we shall have achieved the purpose of our existence:
And entered into abundant joy from which there is NO exit.
St. Augustine put it well:
“We shall rest and we shall see:
We shall see and we shall love:
We shall love and we shall praise:
Behold what shall be in the end and shall not end.”
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