In London, on Whitehall, not far from 10 Downing Street, is a massive monument, called the Cenotaph, set up to remember Britain’s fallen soldiers. At first glance, it’s not much to write home about. It’s big and rectangular and granite.
And that seems about it.
However, if you dare to look a little closer, you’re in for a little treat. The four vertical corners reach out of the earth and point high to the sky. The untrained eye will see only a simple rectangle. But, that is not so. The four sides are angled ever so slightly and with such great precision, that if you were to follow the four sides straight up their vertical lines would meet at 980 feet in the sky over London.
The slight bend is hardly noticeable, but it is there, and to great effect.
Sometimes the same thing happens with human ideas. They start out looking good. They seem straight enough. But if you follow them for long they aren’t straight at all.
Such is the modern Christian understanding of Heaven. People have taught “when we die we go to Heaven” for so long that it has become a common belief of our faith.
The reasoning goes that we are here on earth for a while, and then we spend eternity somewhere else. In other words: we’re outta here.
Follow that with the common evangelical belief in the rapture, and we might not even have to wait until we die to get outta here. We might be driving our car, flying a plane, or sitting at our desk – and whoosh. We’re gone.
But, that is not the truth of the Bible. Weird not outta here. We don’t go “somewhere better.” If we do, it’s only for a short while. And then we come back.
Because God is making all things new.
The whole story of God begins with the words: In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth.
The first glimpse of God that we are given in the Scriptures proclaims clearly that 1) God creates, and 2) God creates all things here and all things above.
In our lesson from Isaiah this week not only is all that conjured up, but God dreams about it happening AGAIN. God dreams of creating, and especially creating NEW things.
“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.”
In Genesis God created the first Heaven and the first earth. Here in Isaiah, and again in Revelation, God makes them anew.
In Revelation when all things are made new Heaven comes down and joins earth. The Heavenly city of Zion descends to earth in all its glory, with the lamb at the center of the throne.
It comes here.
If you’re going ‘up’ when you die, you might just pass the action which is headed the other way.
Good luck with that.
The vision of Genesis, Isaiah, and Revelation witnesses in powerful, recurrent, and poetic ways that our great God is a Creator: meaning God likes to create. And, the Scriptures witness to that aspect of God in which he creates things “new.”
Part of the preacher’s task is to do the hard work of straightening up the lines that have shifted over time. It’s hard work because people don’t like that. People like to think of grandma being ‘up there’ and one day we’ll go ‘up there’ and we’ll all live happily ever after.
And that’s nice.
But the real deal is that were all coming back HERE when it’s created new.
And, in case you missed it: the new creation has already begun. It began in Christ. It began with Resurrection. In the Resurrection Jesus was made so new that his followers didn’t even recognize him. They thought he was the gardener. They thought he was a stranger. He walked through closed, locked doors.
He is made new. And, in baptism WE are made new.
And one day the whole kit and caboodle will be made new. And here we’ll be.
Maybe even the monument on Whitehall will be straightened out.
How do you change commonly held comforting ideals? How can you do it with grace and present an even more comforting future?