2022-05-22 Easter 6
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
There were once two Christian ladies. One of them was rich but rather stingy. She would give money to the church, but only grudgingly. The other one, the maid of the first, didn’t have much money but she gave lavishly and sought out ways she could give more. They both died and were lead around their new heavenly home. An angel brought them to a gigantic mansion and dropped off the maid. “Wow!” exclaimed the rich woman giggling with glee, “if this chateau is for my maid, I can’t wait to see my place!” They moved on down the streets of gold until they reached a ramshackle, cardboard shanty. “What’s this!?” blurted out the rich woman in disbelief. “Sorry,” the angel replied, “we did the best we could with the materials you sent us!”
There’s millions of jokes like this one, isn’t there? We certainly have a fascination with “died-and-gone-to-heaven” jokes. Whether it be St. Peter at the pearly gates or 2 women in different accommodations, we love to have a good chuckle about it. I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t asked the question “what happens when you die?” “What is heaven like?” Even in the scriptures, there have only been a select few people who have had heavenly visions while still in this life. Isaiah the prophet did (6:1-8), and part of that vision is enshrined in our Liturgy as we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of pow’r and might.” Ezekiel had a vision and so did St. John who wrote the book of Revelation for us. He described an enormous and glorious city, a Kingdom of celestial majesty and splendour. So we get some very interesting and amazing details about what Heaven is like, but keep in mind it’s always veiled in Isaiah’s and St. Paul’s words “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
There remains in our world much confusion about what happens when we did. Even amongst Christians there’s a bunch of wonky ideas. Rather than read the Bible, people dream up this and that and start believing a bunch of myths. At the top of the list is this idea that people become angels when we die. I have no idea how people got this idea because the Bible doesn’t say that anywhere. It might have come to be from those Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercials from like a decade ago where people were floating around on angel wings with harps and eating a steady diet of processed cheese! Who knows?! Often we comfort ourselves in thinking that people become angels, especially little babies and children if they should die. But it’s just not true. People are made in the image and likeness of God. Angels are made to be messengers and servants, and in this regard, they are made lower than we are. They are spirit beings. We are both spirit and flesh. We can never forget that Jesus our Lord became flesh for us and for our salvation. He didn’t come to save angels. That’s why we must always stick to the Scriptures and stay with what God tells us in His Word.
And here’s what the Scriptures tell us about what God has in store for us. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:1-2). Did you catch that detail from the first verse? A new heaven and a new earth. We always think about going to “heaven” when we die but that’s not the final destination. Our bodies are destined for resurrection, just like Christ our Lord. And resurrected bodies need an earth. So God is going to give us a new one. And on that new earth will be a new Jerusalem.
“And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Rev 10-14). You can envision this incredible sight. The new Jerusalem, the city of God, descends and it is awesome. It’s laid out in the perfect shape of a cube, made of pure gold, clear as glass. Even the streets are pure gold! You have both the Old Testament connection to the 12 tribes of Israel and also the New Testament connection to the 12 apostles. The fact that there are 12 gates is interesting. A gate was a liability in the ancient world of wall defence. It was a likely place of attack from an enemy so you wanted to keep your doors down to a minimum. But here there are 12 gates. This suggests that it isn’t attack we shall be worried about, but rather welcoming. The gates to the new Jerusalem are swung wide open by God’s grace to welcome the faithful into the city. Just as the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles’ were blessed to be a blessing to this world and spread the good news that Christ is Risen, so now the fruit of their labour comes to fruition. The gates are there to let the faithful in.
“And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” That’s quite the detail there too. In the New Jerusalem there is no temple, no church building. Just think! No Board Meetings. No Budget meetings. No more slathering tar on the roof to stop the water leaks. No trying to wrangle up volunteers! God Himself is the temple. There we will see the full, radiant glory of our God. No longer will people have to hide their eyes from His holiness for there, God will personally live in the midst of His saints in glory. And because of this radiance, the sun and moon are no longer needed. As the Scriptures tell us, “God is light” (1JN1:5) and we won’t need any LEDs where we are going.
So we have all this amazing light and glory and splendour and wealth and sheer unparalleled awesomeness! And, we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the new heaven and new earth that await us as God’s people! It’s come full circle. For in Genesis we see heaven and earth created, now in Revelation we have a new heaven and a new earth. Our sun was created, later we will have no need for a sun. Sin and death entered the world, soon there will be no more death or sin. Man was driven from our original paradise with an angel guarding the gate to keep him out, later we will be restored to the ultimate paradise with angels welcoming all people through 12 gates. Where once sorrow and pain dominated our lives, there will be no more tears and pain in the perfect city of God. We truly have a lot to look forward to!
These scriptures fill our hearts with the peace that surpasses all understanding because they convince us that heaven is real and will be our home. For this is the place that Christ Jesus went to prepare for us, His Baptized people who cling to His sacrifice on the cross. We are the people who will find their names written in the book of life. This is what we hold onto with all our might, all of our lives. If we find that we are lying in a hospital bed, diagnosed with a terminal disease, all kinds of things run through our heads. We may have regrets, sadness, fear, or anxiety. We will certainly remember our sins and how we’ve disappointed God and our family. But at the same time, we know and trust that our Lord’s cross and resurrection is all we need. His holy blood has covered our offences and mistakes. And because we know that this is true, our eternal home awaits. Our thoughts change from worry to trust as we contemplate how amazing and awesome it will be to see the gates made of pearl, to walk on the streets of gold and to behold our Savior face to face, shining in uncreated light.
This dear friends is what we have to look forward to. This is God’s promise to you in the forgiveness of your sins. Earthly treasure doesn’t even hold a candle to what’s coming. We might think that our money and possessions and luxuries are what define us, but we need to think again. For the poorest, old faithful widow in the pew has more wealth than Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Oprah & Elon Musk combined! Think about that. Let that sink in and marinate in your heart and mind. It sure puts a whole new perspective on life, doesn’t it? Why do we waste our lives accumulating earthly treasure when the new heaven and new earth is our home?! Perhaps we should be taking our money and helping the poor and the needy, spreading the Gospel that Christ Jesus is truly risen from the dead. The beauty of God’s Kingdom shows us truly how awesome and amazing life with our Lord will be and, is now. As we gather around our Lord’s Table, in His real presence, we get a glimpse of the glory that is to come. As we read and listen to His Word about our heavenly home, it fills us with awe and joy. As we are washed clean in the water of our Baptism, we know that our Lord has written our names in His book of life. And, as Tobit writes “A bright light will shine to all the ends of the earth; many nations will come to you from far away, the inhabitants of the remotest parts of the earth to your holy name, bearing gifts in their hands for the King of heaven. Generation after generation will give joyful praise in you; the name of the chosen city will endure forever” (Tobit 13:11). Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!