“The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” Words from our 2nd Reading today from the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelation – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
A Mom came into the kitchen and saw her son drawing a picture while seated at the table. She asked, “what are you drawing, son?” “A picture of heaven, Mom.” “But you can’t do that; no one knows what heaven will look like.” “Well, they will when I’m done.”
We are given an image of what heaven might look like in our 2nd reading today. The description is physical enough to picture: 12 gates, precious stones and metals, high walls… in many respects it is a reproduction of the earthly Jerusalem, God’s holy city of ancient times, but there is one notable difference: there is no temple building. In its place is Jesus. The profound and symbolic point here is that we won’t need anything or anyone else. Our worship and our focus and our livelihood will all be directed towards God, and God’s light and love will flow towards us in turn. What makes for the joy and splendor of this heavenly reality is that God is all in all. It is expressive not simply of a physical place that we will come to live in after we leave this earth, but speaks more so of this place as our heavenly home.
I’d like us for a moment to think of the difference between a house and a home. What is the difference? Certainly, we all have those things particular to us that make our houses and our homes unique, but perhaps we can characterize the differences between them by saying a house is a space that life occupies whereas a home is a space where life flourishes. Houses can be bought, but homes cannot. A house is built physically. A home can take many forms as it is built around memories, emotions, relationships… A house is made by bricks and a home is made by love – “home is where the heart is.” In the olden days, the center of a house was its fireplace which provided warmth and light, food and protection. At the center of the home, likewise, is the hearth symbolically providing the warmth and light, nourishment and care and peace that comes from such a love.
In the Gospel Jesus speaks of the longing in our hearts for being at home, as he says “whoever loves me… we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” When we follow in Jesus’ word, when we love as Christ taught us to, when we live out our discipleship, God will be with us and in relationship with us. God will be our temple, our hearth, providing us with warmth and light, nourishment and care and peace. We will find ourselves at home, our true home with God, even today, even now.
There are a lot of visions out there of what heaven might look like. And they all start the same way: 12 gates, precious stones and metals, high walls… and then likewise in the place of the temple building you will be shown what supposedly makes for a home. Unfortunately, in those visions you will find that something less than God that occupies its center. In the place of that temple you will find the worship of power, money, influence, control, success… We suppose that because of everything that troubles us in this world, having access to such things will solve our problems and make for peace. Sure, a superior force may end the war in Ukraine, the issue of abortion may be settled in the courts, new initiatives might end violence and mass shootings… but at the end of the day, there will still be brokenness and division and racism and fear – such things are all characteristic of the homelessness that we experience in this world (and that’s not to make light of the issue of affordable housing in any way besides). Having power and influence, money or success may make for a nice house or neighborhood, but these things of our short-sighted visions and utopias do not of themselves make for a home, nor do they make for peace amidst our troubles. Indeed, chasing after such dreams, many of us do not find ourselves at home; many of us are still longing for peace.
It is not trite or old-fashioned to say that only Jesus gives us the peace our hearts are longing for, for not as the world gives does Jesus give us his peace. Notably, this promise of peace is coming from the lips of one who is about to be humiliated and crucified, so we should not think of peace here simply as safety or a lack of distress. No, the peace of Jesus is deeper, greater than anything, because it knows that even these things cannot conquer him. That is the joy of Easter and the hope that Christ affords us. No one can take away this peace and joy even in the midst of great trial. God is always at home within himself. In that vein, Jesus doesn’t say, “don’t be troubled.” He says, “don’t let your hearts be troubled.” Whether our hearts are troubled or not, that choice is always up to us. Our heart is our own entity, and we can open it and close it; we can give it away to whom we like. No one can love for you… Home is where the heart is. Don’t let, don’t let your heart be troubled or afraid. As long as we are at home with God, nothing can shake us. Where is your heart leading you?
Only love, modeled after the love of God himself, can make for a home and true peace. Collectively, as individuals and as a society, we need to find this love once more and put God back at the center where he belongs. We need the Holy Spirit to remind us of these things, of all that Jesus stood for and taught. All our other self-created meanings that are not in the service of this love are illusions that will ultimately rob us of our peace and make for that experience of homelessness that we feel in this world. Because home is where the heart is, the disciples’ heart will always be at home with God. That is why our true and ultimate home is heaven, where God is all in all.