A Glimpse of Life After Death

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Revelation is clear that in heaven or the resurrection, or whatever we want to call it, healing happens, being in God’s presence is real, love holds all things, and we get the privilege of worshipping God at all times.  And yet, in this life, we are given glimpses and a taste of all of these things.  It starts now.

 

Sixth
Sunday of Easter; Year C, May 5, 2013

Acts
16.9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21.10, 22.1-5; John 14.23-29

Pastor
Renee Splichal Larson

 

Grace to
you and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus
Christ.  Amen.

I brought
with me a few of my favorite pieces of art. 
All of them, as you will see, include a tree.

These are
pieces of art I dearly cherish, not only for the people who gave them to me or
their beauty, but of what they remind me of. 
They remind me of the hope of the promised future God has for us all.  They remind me of the tree of life that we
will get to eat from one day and use its leaves for the healing of our wounds
and our deep sorrows.    

I am a
person who has always been fond of leaves and fascinated by them.  My favorite season is the fall and I know it
is partly because of the beauty of the changing of color of the leaves.  I have a habit of picking a leaf off a tree
or up from the ground and noticing the countless web-like veins of the leaf.  There is so much detail in a single leaf.  What is even more amazing to me is its
function in bringing life into the whole tree itself through photosynthesis as
it takes in energy from the sun and makes chlorophyll.  The best I can do is stand in wonder.

I get this
same feeling of wonder when I read about the tree of life in our reading in
Revelation.  “On either side of the river
is the tree of life with its twelve fruit, producing its fruit each month; and
the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  Nothing accursed will be found there any more
(Rev. 22.2-3).”

When I see
and hear about the hard realities of what is going on in our own country with
poverty and violence, and what is going on in places like the Central African
Republic, where women and girls are raped every day and young boys are forced
to be child soldiers; or what is going on in Syria, where over 60,000 people
have been killed because of civil war; or how long it is taking for the people
of Haiti to recover after the earthquake, I stand in wonder that some day God
will heal the nations through the leaves of the tree of life.  I don’t know “how,” I simply trust it will
happen because the suffering is so great and so large in the world we need God
to heal us all.

So many people
ask or wonder what heaven will be like. 
It’s nearly impossible to know, but we do know it is real and the
closest descriptions we have of life after death and judgment come in chapters
21 and 22 in Revelation. 

We heard
some of this in chapter 21 last week:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;” writes the author of
Revelation, “3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See,
the home of God is among mortals.  He
will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with
them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying
and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." 

And then in
our reading today, we hear that the new heaven and new earth combine to create
the “New Jerusalem,” a city in which the gates will never be shut…why?  Because there is nothing to fear because God
will not allow anything that can harm to enter the city.  The throne of God and Jesus the lamb will be
there, and we know we’ll get to worship. 

Rev.
22.3-5: God’s “servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name
will be on their foreheads.  And there
will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will
be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

Does all this
sound like something you hope for?  Is
this something you need reminding of when life seems overwhelming and
difficult?

Part of
what it means to be Christian is to remember. 

We share in
Holy Communion every Sunday and remember
the deep love of Jesus for us. 

We share
the peace and remember that we are to
be reconciled to one another. 

We pray and
remember that we are not alone. 

We read
Scripture and remember what Jesus
said and the stories that shape our faith. 
 

In our
Gospel reading Jesus tries to prepare his disciples for his going away. Jesus
tries to help his disciples understand that even though he is going away, he
will still be with them through the power of the Holy Spirit.   

Jesus says,
“I am going away, and I am coming to you.” 
This is intriguing language.  How
can one go away and yet come at the same time? 

As Jesus
goes, the Holy Spirit comes and brings Jesus presence and makes it available to
the whole world.  Not just one place at
one time like a human being; but everywhere and always, like God.  “The Holy Spirit,” Jesus says, “…will teach
you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

When you
remember passages in Scripture, stories, hymns, or that Jesus loves you, this
is the Holy Spirit working in you.  When
you love another person or have hope when there doesn’t seem to be any, this is
the Holy Spirit.  When a person you know
dies, and you have a sense of peace or a knowing that they are with God and are
okay, this is the Holy Spirit reminding you of what you already know to be true
because you have read it in Revelation 21 and 22. 

We need the
Word of God and the Holy Spirit to remind us of whose name we bear on our
foreheads and to whom we belong.  We
already bear the mark of the cross on our foreheads through our baptism into
Christ, a mark that will continue to be on our foreheads after we die and are
raised to new life. 

Our
resurrected life, our life in the New Jerusalem, in the new creation has
already begun, even though I know much of the time it doesn’t feel like it.  It’s not something that we have to twiddle
our thumbs and wait for or think that we only get to experience it after we die. 

Revelation
is clear that in heaven or the resurrection, or whatever we want to call it, healing
happens, being in God’s presence is real, love holds all things, and we get the
privilege of worshipping God at all times. 
And yet, in this life, we are given glimpses and a taste of all of these
things.  It starts now. 

We ask God
in worship to give us a foretaste of the feast to come.  Whenever you experience healing, forgiveness,
hope, love, joy…the future God has planned for us all breaks into our lives and
fills us with expectation and longing for more of it, knowing that one day our
life with God in all its fullness will come.

Pastor Fred
Craddock writes, “…we will get to dwell with God (v.2); in the mean time, God
comes to dwell with us (v.23) (John, pp.110-111).”  Verse 23 in our Gospel reading today, Jesus
says, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and
we will come to them and make our home with them.”

Just for a
little more emphasis, in 1 Cor. 6.19, Paul writes: “…do you
not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you
have from God…” 

God is delighted to make a home in you and be with you wherever
you are.  Give you strength and courage
when you need it.  Give you the peace
Christ offers when you have a troubled heart and when you are afraid.  Help you forgive when you don’t think you
can, and heal from the inside out.

Our God is
not a God way up in the clouds that doesn’t care.  God has come to earth in Jesus 2000 years ago,
and God continues to come to us today through the power of the Holy
Spirit.  God’s movement is always towards
you and me wherever we are at. 

When I look
at all my art pieces that have images of the tree of life, I can’t help but
long for the future God promises us.  At
the same time, this earth that we walk upon and our lives on it matter and are
so important.  So important in fact, that
God wants to walk them with us.  I am so
grateful for such a God as this.