Post from Revd John Bridge ~ His first Sermon as Vicar at St Giles
It’s hard to believe that it only been a week that we have all been stuck at home, the children have been off school and we’ve been instructed to work at home if possible. Sometimes it seems like it has been a lot longer. ….
On this 5th Sunday of Lent, the start of Passiontide and my first Sunday as vicar, let’s pause and consider what the bible has to say about the idea of eternity and forever. In today’s gospel reading (John 11: 1-45), Jesus boldly stated to Lazarus’ sister Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will never die but shall live forever.”
The oldest living thing on our planet is an unnamed bristlecone pine from the California’s White Mountains, which is around 5,000 years old. But 5,000 years of living is not eternal life. 5,000 years old is but a speck within the eternity of time. The idea of eternity is closely associated with our concept of heaven, that heaven is somehow out of time and bound up with the eternity of God.
And if you summarize the whole Bible into one soundbite, you might quote John chapter 3 verse 16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him will not die but live forever.”
The start of Genesis (“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth”) and the book of Revelation (chapter 21 verse 1 says “then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and first earth had passed away”) both tell us that heaven and earth began together and will be re-created together.
The gospel writers also often talk about heaven and earth passing away. So the biblical idea of heaven doesn’t seem to be permanent or everlasting. In the bible the term everlasting is used in association with God, with God’s characteristics and with God’s word, but not with heaven. In the bible heaven will pass away and be replaced by a new heaven.
If by eternity we mean something permanent and everlasting then that doesn’t seem to apply to heaven. But if we think of eternal as something which exists outside of time, then heaven may be eternal in that respect. The psalms talk about a thousand years in God’s sight being like a watch in the night. And the same way may be true of the place where God dwells in heaven.
Also, if we think of heaven as not being permanent, then this tells us something very significant about God’s love for humanity. If God created heaven and will re-create it, it must be possible for God to dwell somewhere other than heaven. One purpose of heaven then- although obviously not the only purpose- is to provide somewhere closely connected with Earth for God to dwell alongside of us.
Eventually even heaven was too far away and God came to earth in human flesh, but the creation of heaven and earth, alongside each other and at the same time, reminds that God’s desire in creation was to dwell alongside us in a realm created for that purpose.
Heaven and earth are closely bound together, created together and redeemed together. It is easy to assume that heaven is far away because it feels far away. But the biblical tradition suggests that heaven is created alongside earth, and though veiled and hidden from us, is very close to us.
The Bible tries to convince us that the plan, the vision and destiny of God is for us to believe in Christ and live and love forever, beginning now, today, this moment and for all eternity.
God wants to give us eternal life…now. Not when we die. Not in the future. Not at the end of our lives, but now.
The word for “eternal life” is found around 400 times in the Bible, and these words express the very essence of God: that God is forever, that God’s love is forever, that the Lord God rules forever and ever, that God lives forever. And those who are known by God, which is of course everyone, shall also live and be loved by God forever.
Forever describes the very core essence of God, and therefore the very core of God’s plan for us today and in the future. Our rational minds might try to tell us that death is death, and that is the end, that loved ones who have died are gone forever. But the bible tells us otherwise, that there is no cut off in our relationship with God. To be alive with God is to know God forever, beginning on this day and for eternity. Every sunset has been turned into a sunrise.
Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote; “In life after Easter, death becomes a laughable impossibility.”
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die but shall live forever.”
I will be putting some more material online over the next two weeks, if there is anything you would particularly appreciate (sermons, prayers, online worship) then do let me know- it will be very different celebrating Easter this year, but celebrate we must!
In the meantime, here is the Collect for today:
you gave up your Son
out of love for the world:
lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion,
that we may know eternal peace
through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.