The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
April 25, 2010
Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come. Amen.
In her 1987 hit song, Belinda Carlisle sings about Heaven being a place on earth.
It’s a quintessential 80’s power pop song:
highly produced upbeat, exposed solo vocal on the verses,
accompanied on the refrain by a cranking, if somewhat cheesy, electric guitar,
an escalating drum beat, sustained synthesizer chords,
and a tight back-up chorus;
The song culminates with the requisite key change,
lifting us up in the emotion of her lyrics,
which sings with excitement about
the kind of love that is supposed to happen only in heaven.
“We’re spinning with the stars above,” she intones,
“and you lift me up in a wave of love …”
And then comes the chorus:
“They say in heaven love comes first.
We’ll make heaven a place on earth.
Ooo heaven is a place on earth.”
Heaven is a place on earth.
Expressing similar aspirations – the joining of heaven and earth –
is a wonderful, if slightly tongue-in-cheek,
account of the creation of baseball,
written in the style of the book of Genesis.
“In the big inning God created Heaven on Earth.
And it was without form, and void.
God separated the dirt from the grass.
He called the grass Outfield and the dirt he called Infield.”
And it goes on and on, to describe everything beautiful and confounding about baseball,
from umpires to light beer to the Designated Hitter … it’s quite funny.
For those of us who hold baseball in high esteem
it is no far stretch to describe baseball in heavenly terms.
Whether it is love or baseball or some other pursuit –
gazing upon nature, experiencing the joy of family,
or biting into a delicious chunk of chocolate –
our culture revels in seeking the intersection of heaven and earth,
hoping beyond hope to bridge the gap
and bring the perfection of heaven
down a few notches to grace and enlighten our imperfect existence on earth.
It’s been our culture’s quest for centuries,
a kind of never ending Indiana Jones epic
wherein we ceaselessly look for heaven on earth …
Shangri-La, the Fountain of Youth, Atlantis, the Holy Grail.
But perhaps heaven isn’t found in the love of a dance-floor relationship,
or the perfect symmetry of a baseball game
or in an ideal community …
That is, perhaps we’re looking in the wrong places for this heaven on earth.
“The father and I are one,” Jesus says, in today’s Gospel.
The father and I are one.
With these simply yet confounding words
Jesus reveals himself to be that elusive – and unlikely –
intersection of heaven and earth,
for it is within him – and only within him –
where the heavenly and the earthly comingle.
The Father, in heaven, is one with the Son, on earth,
so that in him heaven and earth are joined,
and the wholeness of creation finds a focal point.
And I say that Jesus represents an unlikely intersection of heaven and earth,
for we so often want the experience of heaven on earth to be something spectacular:
like spinning with the stars above, as in the Belinda Carlisle song,
or with the utopian harmony of a mythic lost society,
or even the perfect balance and movement of a game.
But instead, what we have is a God who comes to us as a man,
who preaches some pretty topsy-turvy things,
excites a good number of people, upsets a good number of others,
and then who dies on a cross.
Heaven on earth? In that kind of a guy? Really?
I thought heaven was supposed to be all kinds of wonderful.
Compared to the utopia we’re looking for,
that just sounds odd, underwhelming, and disappointing.
John of Patmos,
who recounted the visions and prophesies that make up the book of Revelation,
saw all kinds of wonderful, but also some pretty difficult, things.
Many would have us believe that Revelation is a story book about a horrific endtimes,
full of battles and death and destruction …
That’s not the point of Revelation,
though surely this book does tell of some violent conflict.
Rather, it’s a book that describes in rich and descriptive,
and at times highly symbolic, language
the late first century conflict between Christians and the Roman empire.
It speaks honestly about violence and pain,
in part because that was what the church in the first century knew first hand,
and yet it uses that painful reality to point toward a hopeful future.
In today’s reading from Revelation chapter 7, John of Patmos describes a vision,
in which he sees “a great multitude that no one could count,
from every nation, from all tribes and people and languages,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb,
robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”
Who are these people? Those whom have come through the great ordeal,
the heavenly elder tells John,
that is, those who in John’s time had suffered and died on account of their faith,
perhaps under the persecutions of Nero.
Their white robes? Washed and made white … “in the blood of the Lamb.”
And so even his vision of heaven
is not without a reference to people who once suffered,
and to the suffering of our Lord,
a suffering that, paradoxically, turns our tears into joy
our death into life,
our despair into hope.
Heaven … on earth.
Yesterday I walked through a little bit of heaven on earth.
It was during Rebuilding Together,
an annual home-repair service event taken up by thousands of people
at thousands of locations across the country,
including members of Resurrection and St Ann’s Catholic Church,
who worked together on a house in South Arlington,
providing much needed house repairs for an ill, lower-income woman.
This little bit of heaven that I visited yesterday wasn’t a paradise,
but rather it was scarred by years of pain, illness, economic injustice, and racism.
And yet, these scars – though visible – didn’t dominate the picture I saw.
Rather, this woman and her family were yesterday surrounded
with love shown through good works,
love that transformed that house into a place more comfortable,
more dignified for this dear woman in need.
I spoke with her for a few minutes,
and she described feeling blessed by God through the work of the volunteers.
Yes, God was at work through those dear volunteers,
God was active yesterday in that home,
tearing down the old and bringing in the new,
a glimpse on earth, however dim, of what is promised to us in heaven.
The early Christians believed that their earthly worship
was to be in tune with, in harmony with
the worship that was simultaneously taking place in heaven.
In fact, in o
ur liturgy we do much the same thing,
when in the midst of the communion liturgy the presiding minister
prays, sometimes chanting, “And so with all the choirs of angels,
with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven,
we praise your name and join their unending hymn.”
Do you hear those words?
We praise God’s name with the choirs of angels and the hosts of heaven,
joining with all of heaven in praise of God,
singing an unending hymn as we approach our Lord’s altar,
as we seek to receive him in bread and wine, body and blood,
given for you and for me and for all people,
a foretaste of the feast to come,
a feast that will forever join heaven and earth,
and renew all of creation in a New Kingdom, a new creation.
Despite what Ms Carlisle says in her hit song, heaven is not a place on earth –
not yet, anyway.
But, heaven is coming to earth – this is the promise of Revelation, chapter 21,
where we read about the holy city,
a new Jerusalem, come down from heaven,
the home of God among mortals,
where he will dwell with his people,
wipe tears from our eyes,
and where death will be no more.
Yet until that time when heaven and earth are joined in a holy union,
let us seek glimpses of that holy union in our Lord’s presence at this holy altar,
and in our Lord’s work in the world …
glimpses that give us hope that our Lord’s kingdom is coming,
our Lord’s will is being done, on earth as it is in heaven.