Heaven is the New Jerusalem
"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, the new Jerusalem …" ~Revelation 21:1-2
My wife and I spent a long Mother's Day weekend in Boulder, Colorado, proudly watching one of our twins (Amy) receive her Master of Arts. Her twin (Allison) flew in, too. Allison received her Master of Divinity one year after I earned mine. While there, we caught up with a couple of Allison's seminary classmates. Also the guest preacher leading worship here at Prineville Presbyterian Church in my absence has a Master of Divinity.
Each of us with the same degree — yet — in all in different kinds of service. That service here on earth guided by what we understand about our God in heaven.
Heaven as the New Jerusalem — that's how we read it in the passage from Revelation.
We spend a lot of time trying to get heaven figured out. Maybe it's like the spectacular views we saw at Rocky Mountain National Park during our visit. Or "streets of gold" as we read a bit further along in Revelation.
Possibly heaven comes as a "sound;" a glorious symphony unmatched by any other, or waves gently lapping along a seashore.
How about what heaven "feels" like? My favorite thought is that it's like warm sweats straight out of the dryer on a cold winter's day for my soul.
Yet John (author of Revelation) doesn't suggest any of this. John simply writes that heaven is the place where God is. And we are fully united with God.
John adds to this understanding by calling heaven a city. Cities are where people live together and depend upon each other; cities work best when everybody can find their place in it as they combine their efforts for the benefit of all.
A city is also a destination, a welcoming place where people find comfort at the end of a long and perhaps confusing journey; whether that's after landing in snowy conditions at Denver International like we did, or more likely at the end of our earthly lives.
There's another point to be made here, and that is that while we try to define heaven by what it is; John defines heaven by what is not in it.
Borrowing from the works of Dana Ferguson as he writes about: "first heaven and first earth have passed away and the sea is no more."
"The sea is a very powerful Biblical symbol for chaos, and it also represents those things that separate us from each other. So the beauty of this new Jerusalem with no stormy seas is that it is where God and humanity all live together in harmony."
Over that Mother's Day weekend; among those five same degrees:
Evan pastors a church in downtown Denver; a Caucasian asked by the congregation to pastor the largest African American Presbyterian church west of Kansas City;
Brett works outside the church leading a non-profit reading program for students who've been left behind;
Dawn offers comfort as people transition from this physical presence to their eternal existence in that New Jerusalem;
Allison (along with Amy) is getting closer to realizing a return to the earth-friendly farming practices in the Bible while tying that to a faith community;
and also there's me, a pastor who also works with our homeless shelters, Lutheran Community Services and Crook County Foundation.
All of us invested in and committed to this harmony of wide ranging acts of God's goodness.
And the common link for these various actions all rise up out of imaginations nourished by an expansive grace made real because of Jesus Christ — the measure of God's grace that knows no boundaries.
Only in this spaciousness can we find the room needed to do the work where evil is banished, hope is restored, and all things are made new.
Mike Wilson is the pastor of Prineville Presbyterian Church. He can be reached at 541-447-1017.