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Oh, What a Beautiful City

Oh, What a Beautiful City
Image: Cyndi Monaghan / Getty´╗┐

My Dear Shepherds,

I saw a post on Facebook from some friends living through Montana’s cold spring months in a camper. They keep their perishables outside in an animal-proof cooler. They shower at nearby hot springs and do laundry at a friends’ place. Caroline wrote, “David and I still like each other (most of the time) as we build our house and live in our tiny space!”

That’s a good metaphor for Christians here in this world—living together in a camper while waiting to move into our dream home. Our pastoral challenge is that God’s people start to feel at home in these cramped campers.

In Scripture, God entices us with glimpses of our future home without ever giving us the kind of realtor’s details we’d like. We learn that, like the patriarchs, we live now in tents and are “looking forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Or as Paul put it,

… we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. (2 Cor. 5:1)

I’m fascinated with heaven—books about it, poetry, stories, songs. Sometimes on Friday afternoons, when I was particularly weary with the hard work, I’d pull up a recording of the song, “No More Night,” close my eyes, and imagine. Then I’d dab away the tears and get back to work. We need to do that for our earth-bound, world-weary congregations from time to time. A good beginning is the Bible’s ending, Revelation 21 and 22.

An old song says, “How beautiful heaven must be!” John saw that the bride, the wife of the Lamb, the Holy City, “shown with the glory of God.” The glory of God, above all else, is Christ’s “radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” That’s why the centerpiece of heaven is the golden altar, stained with the blood of the eternal covenant.

The saints will descend to the new creation, the new Eden. The scenery isn’t the most beautiful thing about our homeland but it is certainly worthy of imagination. In Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Gilead, two elderly pastors are talking:

Boughton says he has more ideas about heaven every day. He said, “Mainly I just think about the splendors of the world and multiply by two. I’d multiply by ten or twelve if I had the energy. But two is much more than sufficient for my purposes.” So he’s sitting there multiplying the feel of the wind by two, multiplying the smell of the grass by two.” (p. 147)

We try to mentally construct an image of the Holy City from the human architecture John describes. It’s easier to picture solid foundations, walls, gates, and streets than to see ourselves as the city. Also, the only cities we know are built for privacy, safety, traffic flow, and commerce. Imagine a city where none of that matters, where love is pervasive, service comes naturally, and worship is on every tongue, where we traffic among angels and are always within sight of the throne of God, where life grows on trees and runs in the river.

I could go on and on, but that’s your job. Preach heaven, dear shepherds. Give your people songs that make them homesick. Augustine wrote, “I am groaning with inexpressible groaning on my wanderer’s path, and remembering Jerusalem with my heart lifted up towards it—Jerusalem my homeland, Jerusalem my mother.” Bishop Ryle said, “I pity the man who never thinks of heaven.” Be sure there’s no one in your congregation who has never thought of home!

Be ye glad!

Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.

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