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Community Church of Glen Rock

November 1, 2009

Revelation 21:1-6 HEAVEN ON EARTH by The Rev. Allan Janssen

I live close to death. It comes with the job. To walk with the dying and the
grieving. To spend time leading funeral and memorial services. Most of the time we don’t
think about dying, or the dying. But at such times we do. And we do today as we
remember beloved friends and family members who have left us to be with God. One of
the questions that pursues us is: what’s next? What’s next for those who have died?
What’s next for us who remain? What’s next in the days we have left – and the days (if
we can call them “days”) after that? What’s next for this world?
That question can so burn that it leads to the odd appearance of thing like
spiritualism. This is the notion that we humans are really spirits, our bodies a mass of
unfortunate protoplasm that we have to drag around while spending our few years on
terra firma. After death, our spirits go somewhere – we’re not exactly sure. But they can
be evoked by the spiritually adept, mediums and such. The spirits of our beloved send us
messages, wait for us perhaps in heaven’s waiting room. Spiritualism is a form of
Christianity’s oldest heresy, one that never completely goes away. My point, however, is
not it’s heretical side, but the deep longing we have to know “what’s next?”
Now, as Shakespeare famously said, “there are more things than in your
philosophy, Horatio.” There are things that I can neither explain nor do I deny. However,
Scripture is famously reticent on what happens to us after we die. It says some things, but
not very much, at least not about the details of the journey to the next life. Most of what
we think we believe we made up. So it doesn’t do to “shingle into the fog.” (I first heard
that expression when I was a naïve seminarian and a distinguished member of the
seminary’s board said that. I never forgot it. That distinguished guy was Vern Dethmers.)
But here’s what we get as we come to the end of Scripture, in that marvelous, and
famously misunderstood, book of Revelation. The seer, the guy dreaming with open eyes,
says: “I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Did you hear it? Did you get it? We think
that after death, what’s next, is going away, going off into the wild blue, to the “other
side.” But that’s not what Scripture tells us. The holy city, the new Jerusalem, comes
down, it comes to earth.
Why? Because, we’re told, God’s home is among mortals! God’s home isn’t
somewhere else. It’s here. Here? In this miserable world where plague and war and
disaster leave us breathless? Here? Where we humans do what we do to each other? Well,
if we’re paying attention, the dreamer sees a new heaven and a new earth. But they are
heaven and earth, which, again if we’ve been paying attention, are the creation in which
we have our home. And now it’s God’s home.
This is the God who has a love affair with this world. Unrequited, often enough,
but a love affair nonetheless. God will save the world so that God might have a home
among mortals, and so we might have a home as well, with God. A home now where
death and weeping and the kind of grief that leaves us breathless will be things of the
past. God’s love affair went so far as Jesus, whose presence among us was more than a
visit. It included subjection to the terrors that we inflict on each other, and through the

horrors of the cross bore all that hurts and destroys. This was God working to save, to
make for this new creation, which is the old washed clean and, as an old theological
mentor of mine put it, make it “fireproof.”1
So heaven comes down, decked out (the Greek here is from the same root from
which comes “cosmetics”), dressed up like a bride at her wedding. This prepares a place
to be for our beloved and for us. It’s a place because we will be there as humans, not as
little gods. And so with bodies as well. God’s home is with humans, as humans.
This human future has given Christians a courage to live. It is courage in the face
of great danger. It is courage to stand up to the powers of darkness that threaten our
world: to racism and to oppression, to enemies of freedom, to economic power. It is
courage to live for the sake of this world, even as fully aware that the world as we know
it now is not the end limit. So that while we are sad at dying, sad because life is good and
precious. We are not devastated, but can in fact sing in the face of death.
For, you see, we are together on a journey. I’ve been saying that God makes
God’s home with humans. The word used here, twice, is the same one used in John’s
magnificent prologue, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The verb there is
“to pitch tent,” or if your more into Biblical vocabulary, “to tabernacle.” God pitches tent
with us humans, even at the end!
Here’s what that tells me. Even at the end we are on pilgrimage with God. Where
to? I can’t say, of course. The Bible leaves us on this note. But it is a note that we can
sing, even if we can’t get our brains around it. We are still on the way, but now with God,
with all the darkness taken away. We are on the way as humans, now beyond death,
beyond the terror, welcomed into a home that moves ever onward.
With that we have said good-bye to Wally and Warren and Edith and all the rest. I
have said good-bye to other friends this year, and so have you. What’s next? The full
answer to that remains a mystery. But we go forward knowing that whatever else it is, it
is a human future, a future where heaven comes to earth, where it is not the end of the
creation, but its salvation, and of all that is loved by God, and that includes our friends.
And, glory be, us too!

A.A. van Ruler, for those who are interested.