The Vision of Heaven
We in the church have an odd relationship with heaven. For periods in the history of the church, we’ve acted like heaven was the only thing that mattered — preaching focused on getting in to heaven (by whatever means) and the struggles of this life we just some cosmic downpayment for our reward in heaven. At other times, we would hardly bring it up, as though heaven were just some vision of what this world would be like if we just tried hard enough. Neither is adequate.
The heaven that is promised is clearly part of God’s vision for us, but we are also to work for the improvement of life in this world. We worship God in heaven, we look to all that is promised in God’s Kingdom, but at the same time, we seek to meet the needs of people in this life. So we help feed people at Daily Bread, we house the homeless with Family Promise, we bring light to dark places with Solar Light for Africa, and in many, many more ways. I’m proud to be rector of a church that takes this call seriously!
The vision of the heavenly Kingdom comes up again in our lessons for Sunday. We read from the Revelation to John about the “New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” and we are promised, among other things, that God will wipe away every tear, and death will be no more. It’s a stunning vision! (Click here to read the full passage.)
The Scripture, in general, is rather short on information about exactly what heaven will be like. There are a few things that are, I believe, clear. We are not going to become another drop in the great cosmic ocean. While we are told we will not marry in heaven, it is clear that we will know one another and retain the essentials of our character and personhood, absent the stain of sin.
Heaven will be real. This is a new heavens and a new earth. We are not floating up to the sky and we will not be playing harps on clouds. God will be with us in the most immediate and intimate sense of that term and we will worship Him day and night. I don’t think that means we will be in one interminable Sunday service but that our very existence will be worship. Worship will not be something we have to pause to do, but the very expression of our being.
We are promised a banquet, the wedding feast of the lamb! So we’ll enjoy wondrous food, and we’ll never get fat! We will enjoy one another’s company in ways that we only get little glimpses of today. All the joy and wonder of human relationships without the complications of sin!
There is much more that could be said, but I want to close with an image of heaven that chokes me up every time I read it. It comes from the end of “The Last Battle,” the final book of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia.” Lewis describes the entry into heaven in this way:
“‘The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.’ And as He [Aslan, the Lion, the Jesus character in the series] spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
This column appeared in the May 19, 2019 edition of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
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