Lord, I Need A Vacation!
Text: Rev. 21:10-14, 22-23
6 Easter, C
The first indication that summer is right around the corner usually comes with the release of all those holiday planning guides, just in time for the May long week-end preparations. In days gone by they would be full colour brochures outlining many of the holiday destinations available throughout the province. Now they tend to be websites and cell phone apps. But whatever the format, they try, through words, photos and video snippets, to paint a picture of our home that will invite and inspire others to come and take part in all that this province has to offer.
In many ways our text for this morning is like one of those holiday brochures. It paints through words and symbols the Ultimate Holiday destination. Ontario lakes and beaches might be able to promise a little bit of 'heaven on earth' for those who need a vacation, but God's Word shows us the real thing. A destination that promises not just a weekend of diversions but an eternity of rewards and delights.
One of the first priorities of any travel brochure is to show you what makes the destination in question out of the ordinary. To that end most will begin with a glowing description of the place (and its pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters or whatever). The accounts of heaven are much the same. (10-11) "And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal." This heavenly holy city shines with the beauty and purity of holiness.
It doesn't take much of a look around us to see that this in itself is radically out of the ordinary. While this world and its diversions have much to offer, even when you are not on holiday, holiness is not one of them. There is a dark underbelly to even the brightest of this world's offerings. There is no destination, activity, or relationship in the world that isn't overshadowed by sin and its consequences. There is no beach so pristine that human litter and garbage do not touch it. No water, however crystal clear, that is not affected by mankind's pollution. There is no city that is absolutely safe. No relationship unaffected by anger, hurt, or rejection. There is no heart unspoiled by sin.
Not that you'll find in any brochure of this world, anyway. But in that way heaven is a destination without equal. There, all is purity and light. A light coming from the very holiness of God himself. A light before which no shadow of sin can exist. A light and a holiness that changes the very nature and character of all that come into its presence. Changing all to the point where no hint or shadow of sin remains and where they take up that holiness and shine with it themselves.
Sounds great doesn't it? Lord, I need that vacation, so how do you make a reservation? As we continue to read in the text: (12a) "It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels,” This holy city is a very exclusive destination. Not just anyone can get in. There is a high wall around it to protect the city from any entry by evil. As it is written a little later in (27) “But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.” In other words, this eternal holiday destination is by invitation only.
So how do you get invited? Our text gives us a clue when it reads: (12b) "and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed;” In the book of Revelation, the number 12 is always used as a picture of the church. The names of the twelve tribes on the doors point to those who by faith are descendants of Abraham. Entry into the holy city is only through the church and the invitations it holds. No one can buy their way in by money. No one can bribe their name onto the guest list, through their own works or ideas. It is a matter of God's grace given through faith in the one who paid for our sins. Grace shown in the forgiveness of sins. Grace given through the means of His holy Word and blessed Sacraments. And these are the gifts that God himself has given the church to in turn extend as an invitation to the world around us.
The truth of this becomes clear enough when we continue to read: (13) "on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates." This holy destination is exclusive in that there is only one way to gain access, but entry is open to all people. No matter who they are, or where they may have come from heaven is open to ANY who believe in the grace God has shown us through His Son! Most ancient cities would never dare have more than one gate. Our heavenly city's twelve gates shows us the abundant access into the Kingdom that God graciously provides to all people through the gift of His Son. (25) "and its gates shall never be shut by day -- and there shall be no night there"
And the reason this exclusive resort can have such an open door policy? The foundational principles upon which the whole place is built. (14) And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. This heavenly holiday destination is all made possible because of one thing. The whole place is founded on the apostolic message of Christ crucified and resurrected. The same message the church on earth has been proclaiming and rejoicing in since the beginning. No one can buy their way in but the owner of the resort himself has paid everyone’s admission up front. Your reservation has already been made and guaranteed.
As Paul, a fellow holiday enthusiast once said: (Eph. 2:19-22) “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” No one needs to be left out. Everyone has a place if they want it.
So what is there to do at this heavenly destination? Why only one thing really ... enjoy the presence of God like never before. (22) And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” Here, in this work-a-day world we cannot see God directly, sin doesn’t permit it. Here we have the presence of God through mediators. We see Him at work through things like the written and spoken Word; through Water and through Bread and Wine. And these certainly do give us comfort and strength in our times of trial, but it isn’t what God intended for our relationship with Him. It doesn’t always give us all the answers we wish to know and at times we can misunderstand and even neglect His gifts. And so one day all of this will be gone.
But that’s not a bad thing. We won’t need it any more. In heaven things will be even better without them for there God personally dwells in peace with his people. Face to face -- with nothing in between. (Rev. 21:3) “and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them;” Here He comes to us through the Word and the Sacraments to dwell in our hearts, giving us faith and forgiveness enough to get through the duties and trials of another day. In heaven we will be called to live with Him and in Him. To dwell in the ‘holiest of holies’ with God himself, taking eternal shelter and comfort and joy in His loving and living presence. There will be no more need for the reading of God’s Word; He will speak it to you personally. There will be no more need for the forgiveness of sins, for sin cannot enter in. There will be no more need to take time out for worship, for all of life will be worship.
And that of course brings us to the real draw of this destination it is the ultimate party place, an eternal celebration. (23) And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. Most tourist destinations will cap off their festivals and celebrations with grand displays of fireworks. They are a perennial draw. The ultimate holiday destination of heaven goes even farther. It promises a display that outshines even the sun and the moon for it is lighted with the light of God himself. But this light is more than just the kind to shed darkness. This light is also the very source of life itself. As sunlight gives life to plants here in our gardens, Christ the light of the world gives life to all who bathe in His glory. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) A light without equal, a light without end.
And so dear friends, as you leaf through all the vacation planners and holiday brochures this summer, planning what you will do with your free time, remember the ultimate holiday destination that awaits you at the end of time. And while you wait, why not take some time to review heaven’s brochure, the church. Receive a foretaste of the feast prepared for all people, join for a time in the celebration that is to come, enjoy the gifts that He has to offer, and share the guide book with someone who could really use the vacation.