Seventh Sunday of Easter-Sermon
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
This past week I had the opportunity to sit in on a theology class at Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine, where our own Wes Bareford teaches and field questions from high school juniors. I would ask you to continue to pray for these kids and their school community as they mourn the loss of one of their own. The subject of the class was on the “last things” or “end times.” Now I confessed to them, as I confess to you, that I am not a scholar about these things, but being relatively familiar with the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic literature in the Bible, I fielded their questions and answered what I could. Of course the first and most asked question amongst them was “when?” When will the end be? When will all those things we read of take place? I fear I may have let them down when I answered, IDK. I don’t know. I truly don’t know other than that the end times are lived each day as the Church waits for Jesus Christ to return. We live amongst wars and rumors of wars. We see creation in turmoil and the Church continues to go through tribulation and persecution.
Next in popularity to the question of “when” was “what?” What will it look like? What will happen? What will heaven be like? What about the new heaven and the New earth? Going through the symbolical language of Revelation, we see and hear fantastic images of heaven, the four beasts, the angels and elders, the streets of pure gold clear as crystal, and the pearly gates. It is wonderful imagery that our minds simply cannot comprehend. Yet, we are regularly in the pursuit of wanting to know more about this heaven. Thus the kids continued to ask about their bodies in heaven and what the resurrected flesh will look like. They asked about what they will do in heaven; will there be work or will they have jobs? Unfortunately to most of those questions again I could only respond, IDK. For they are yet to be revealed and we will know once we get there. Their curiosity about heaven though, I think is one that is mirrored not only by us adults, but by even the culture. We as people are fascinated by this place.
The Hollywood film, What Dreams May Come, depicts heaven in ways that Christians, unfortunately, might also talk about heaven. In the movie it is a place that is really the creation of the person. The main character of the movie, Chris, played by Robin Williams, is given his own little corner of heaven where he is the creator of his own domain. He is given poetic and creative license to make it whatever he wants, just by the will of his own imagination. Ask a Christian about heaven and more often than not, he or she will tell you a world that is not much different than that movie. It is a world like the one they live in, but only better. Where they will catch that big fish in heaven, that got away on earth. Where they will ride that big harley in the sky, that they couldn’t afford to purchase down here. They will play cards with aunt Bernice, just like they did in the old days, only this time they will win. Heaven and life after death seems to become a place of imagination; the creation of the minds of those who think about it. Life after death seems most of all to be about a place where dreams come true and if that is true then the universalists are right all paths do lead there.
Unfortunately that is not what our Lord or the Scriptures reveal to us about the life to come. As we said certainly there are wonderful depictions about heaven in the book of Revelation, but relatively speaking they are few in number. For scripture and our Lord life after death has very little to do with a place. So little in fact that true Christian teaching would say that the end of the Christian life is not about a place at all, but rather a person. This is what Jesus reveals to us this morning in His prayer to the Father. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. This is the eternal life, the heaven that we speak about as Christians, we talk not of a place, but of a person: God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The end of the Christian life is Christ through whom we know God. Heaven, depicted in Revelation, though beautiful as it is is simply the space where the saints gather around the throne of God and praise Him, day and night. It is only a place where we know God.
This knowing of God is not mere academic or head knowledge. “To know” in the Bible is rarely only an exercise of the mind, though it definitely includes the mind. It is rather a sense of intimate knowledge. One of unity of heart, mind and will with another. It is why the word in the Old Testament is used to depict the conception of a child. It is complete intimate knowledge, where two become one: the Lover with his beloved, the Bridegroom with His bride, the Lord with His Church, the Father with His children. The knowledge of God that Jesus prays of is becoming one Him in an eternal bond of love. It is to be one with Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Eternal life is eternal communion (one with) with God. As Christians then to speak of heaven, without primarily speaking about fully knowing and loving God and being completely one with Him, is not to speak about heaven at all. For eternal life has little to do with a place, but everything to do with a Person.
It is this eternal communion with God that Jesus prays for His Church and for which He gives thanks to the Father. An eternal communion, which they will experience in part as the church continues in this world without Him. A communion, which itself will not be on Mt. Gerazim or in Jerusalem, but in Spirit and in Truth, wherever the Church assembles to hear the Word proclaimed and to celebrate the Sacrament of that very eternal life which is ours here and now: Holy Communion. The meal of the altar is the marriage feast of that Lamb. It is where we are met by the eternal and living God and are made one with him (communion). Bread and wine eaten and drank for forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation is the unveiling of heaven on earth. This is the truer depiction of heaven that we see in the Bible, where the saints gather not primarily in a place, but chiefly around the Lord Jesus Christ, to know Him and be known by Him.
With this eternal communion with God, which we receive and participate in each time we gather around the Lord’s table, there is another communion of which we must also speak. The communion of which our Lord Jesus fervently prayed and continues to pray for His church, I pray for them…Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. Communion with God is communion with His children, we brothers and sisters. It is what we pray for in the Eucharistic Prayer, that by the Holy Spirit we might be one, as we share in the one bread and one cup of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are prayed for by our Lord in heaven to be one with Him and to be one with each other. For we all share as the apostles writes, one Lord, One faith, One baptism, one God and Father of us all. As we discuss and discern our future together as a parish it is this eternal life that will bind and hold us together, the oneness we share in the confession of our faith and the oneness we share in union with God. A unity and a communion that we experience here on earth as heaven opens before us and we know God gathered not in a place, but around a person, the victorious Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Lamb of God who takes away our sin. The Lamb of God who grants us peace.
May He grant us peace and increase in us the bonds of fellowship and unity in Him as with one heart and one voice we live our eternal life and cry aloud, “Alleluia Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”