Reflections Of Heaven
There are many visions of heaven that can compel or instruct us. For instance, heaven is a place of perfect shalom which can inspire our work for justice on earth. Heaven is a place of holiness, where we’ll forget about temptation and why we would ever have run after the broken cisterns that scatter our earthly path. But there are two images of heaven that rise above these for me. They rouse me every week.
The first is a worship service.
When the apostle whom Jesus loved had his vision on Patmos, he wrote this:
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
I love this scene, and I can imagine it clearly because I have seen its foretastes on earth. I have watched crowded stadiums full of worshippers lifting their hands and voices. I have been in chapels where it seemed that the roof would soon lift off from the vigor of praise inside. I have sat on mountain heights and flung songs to the stars with fervent and devoted young Christians. I have been moved to tears by worship on earth; I can only imagine how captivating it will be in heaven. This is a picture of heaven we long for every Sunday when we gather. And it kills me when we take this for granted. When we see the celebration of the very presence of God as a warm-up to the sermon, or worse yet, the Cowboys game.
The second picture of glory is the one I’m most fond of. It’s the one I most fervently hope to find when I cross over: the wedding supper of the Lamb. The prophet Isaiah foresaw it.
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
I don’t know how this will work since we’ll all want to sit at table with Jesus and his most famous disciples. Perhaps there will be some sort of scheduling rotation, with Jesus making the rounds to everyone’s table. Or perhaps there is some kind of heavenly magic that allows him to be at everyone’s table at once. But I imagine sitting down to dinner with my closest friends and relatives, some of whom have already gone there ahead of me, plying Paul with questions, goading Peter into telling another of his stories, and belly-laughing at Jesus’ jokes. I imagine fine wine and twinkling lights and great, catching sighs of joy and contentment. Shalom.
And, again, I can imagine it keenly — so sharply it brings tears — because I have caught glimpses of it beneath heaven. In the laughter of dinner guests. In the tender love of a dad who bounces an infant on his knee between leaning over for bites of dessert. In the bright eyes and waving hands of a friend regaling us with her best story. This is the picture of heaven we long for every week when we gather with friends over a meal and the scriptures. And it kills me when we take this for granted. We sit in the presence of eternal beings, of people made in the glorious image of ultimate Good, and we open the holy scriptures together. And sometimes we treat it like an obligation — another meeting to which we have to drag our tired bones.
Every week, thousands of Christians get the chance to create these two pictures of heaven: to worship and fellowship — to shout our praise and speak our affections — to sit down to a feast and bow down before our Sovereign. Let’s not take those opportunities for granted. Let’s appreciate them for what they are — whispers of our homeland. Reflections of heaven.