ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JULY 3, 2016
REVELATION 19: 4 – 9; MATTHEW 21: 1- 14
Rev Sabrina Ingram
When my kids were young we started a tradition. One Valentine’s Day I had nothing special planned so I decided to do something spontaneous. I built a tent from sheets in the family room. And in a make-believe, Halloween fashion, we all got dressed like “gypsies” and ate dinner under the tent. It was one of our best family memories. So in recent years we’ve revived the practice. It’s becoming a tradition. Every year for my birthday we have a ‘theme’ party. The first year it was “gypsies” in honour of our origins; the next it was “hobos”. We each made up names and a back stories. We sat around the campfire eating hot dogs and beans from the can. Later we danced. This year I’m aiming for a “mermaid” party but there’s lots of options – “dinosaurs”, “aliens”, “movie stars”, “athletes”, “zombies” you name it. Everyone loves a good party. I want you to think about a great party you’ve attended and share that memory with the others around your table. Is there any really great story anyone wants to tell the group?
Since parties are part of the life’s highlights, it’s no surprise Scripture describes heaven as a fabulous party. And since heaven’s going to be party, there’s room to bring a little of that atmosphere into our worship now. There are many meaningful and helpful ways of worshipping God yet it’s not often that what happens in church feels like a party. But why not? We have the best reasons to be joyful!
Several things make a party an event to remember – in a positive way. Whether it’s Valentine’s Day, a birthday, Christmas, a wedding, a graduation, an anniversary, a wake or a gathering of friends a great party often marks a special occasion. There’s a purpose in celebrating. As Christians we have good blessings to celebrate. There are so many aspects to our faith that are incredible – grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and hope, for starters. Perhaps all this can be summed up in one remarkable experience – new life. Jesus died and rose from the dead. On the cross sin died with him. The empty tomb proves Jesus conquered death. In baptism we’re united with Christ in his death and resurrection – our sin is dead and gone and we have new life. A life in relationship with God. We are knew creations and our fellowship with God is restored. In heaven, the event we will celebrate is the wedding celebration of Jesus and the Church; the re-union of God and Creation. New life with Christ, forever.
A good party often celebrates someone. There is a Valentine, a birthday boy, a happy couple, a graduate. In the Church we celebrate Jesus – we remember his coming as a human baby, his life among us marked by miracles and deep truths, his great gift to us, his resurrection life and his ascension to heaven. In heaven we’ll celebrate his victory and his coronation, “…and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings” (Revelation 17: 14). We’ll dance at his wedding, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19: 7) Jesus is one with the Church, who has been made holy. To her it “has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” (vs. 8) Although it’s a paradox, not only will be invited to the wedding – together we are the bride!
You can’t have a great wedding without a great venue. For centuries Christians have tried to create spaces worthy of God. Some were glorious, others though beautiful were more humble. The wedding in heaven will take place in an impressive place: The New Jerusalem, “The gates of the city are pearls and the streets are pure gold. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. There’s no need for the sun or moon to shine on the city, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night. … nothing unclean will enter it, no one who defiles or deceives; only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Rev. 21: 21 -27)
Which brings us to another party essential: People we love. Look around your table and around the room. A big part of the reason we’re here is because of the people, because of each other. There’s a bond between us that’s special – the bond of common faith; of Christ. We’re committed to each other and we value each other. In heaven we’ll not only be together; we’ll also be with loved ones who have died, in Christ, before us. It will be a family reunion as weddings often are. Great parties are often marked by light, fun conversation. Presently, we have lots of times of laughter and joy, we also share each other’s sorrows. In heaven we’ll just have the laughter and joy, “… he 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.” (Rev. 21: 4) Another impressive trait of wedding guests is that they’ll put their disappointments and grudges aside in order to make it a great day for others. In Christian community that’s something we practice all the time as we learn to love and accept each other and to work out our differences maturely. In heaven we’ll live in perfect harmony, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6) And all that world peace we’ve been praying for? It’ll be a reality. “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.” (Rev. 21: 24) .
Weddings are times of abundance – especially Italian weddings with their 25 courses. In Christ we have abundant life, here and now. In heaven, I’m sure the caterer’s Italian. There’s going to be abundance, “Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels, flocks and rams shall be gathered to you… They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” (Isaiah 60: 5 – 7) And there will be music like you’ve never heard before, “For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. (Is 55:12) I can hardly wait to get there!
But wait – there’s more. Good parties aren’t boring. There’s always something to do. Great conversation, dancing, speeches, games, music. Christians can be serious people – the things we do are often important acts of service. Sometimes we think it’s more holy to be somber and stern. “To everything there is a season” but too much work, too much duty, too much solemnity makes for a dull party with dull people. The kind of gathering where you want to slip out of early. As Christians we want to do the things that are life-giving for others and for ourselves. A sense of play and fun can lift us into God’s presence. Laughter is a sign of the Holy Spirit and a sign of true community. In heaven, life will centre around worship and it won’t be boring, “… there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald…. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne it was like a sea of glass, like crystal. Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind. Day and night without ceasing they sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come’.” (Revelation 4: 2 – 7) We may not have a sea of glass and 4 living creatures (although we do have 4 life-giving Gospel’s) but we can worship with awe and joy, honouring the Lord “who was and is and is to come”. Let’s not wait for heaven for that.
And as I said at the beginning, decorations and costumes do add fun to a party. In the church we have our liturgical colours, ecclesiastical garments, core symbols and often some flowers – but hey, why not a few balloons? As for costumes, in heaven there will be “white robes, with golden crowns” (Rev. 4:4) but better than that we’ll be clothed with pure hearts.
The Father is throwing a wedding for his Son. He’s gone to great lengths to invite you and it’s an honour to be asked, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (19: 9) The rehearsal is here and now. How does your RSVP read? Will you come?