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What's Heaven Going To Be Like? – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

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What’s heaven going to be like?  Do you ever wonder?  Have you ever had any glimpses of heaven?  For me, one of the times I’ve glimpsed heaven has been those wonderful meals you share with really good friends, where you eat and drink and chat and laugh for hours and hours, and it seems just a few minutes.  And you never want the meal to end.

And in Scripture, heaven is very often described in terms of a great meal – a feast – a banquet.  And so in our readings today.  “On this mountain,” writes Isaiah, “the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine.”  And then in our Psalm today, Psalm 23, we read those lovely words, “You spread a table before me…You have anointed my head with oil and my cup is running over.”  And in today’s Gospel we have this parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.”

God prepares with great love a feast for us – and invites us to come and eat.  But there is a terrible shadow hanging over these three passages, and that shadow, as Psalm 23 puts it, is the “shadow of death.”  No man or woman can enter into the banquet, into the heavenly feast, cannot come into the presence of God, until death is conquered.  Both Isaiah and the Gospel use a metaphor.  You cannot enter until you are clothed correctly.  And that is something Isaiah longs for.  He writes with deep longing of that day when “God will destroy the shroud that is cast over all peoples, and will swallow up death forever.”  That word “shroud” here means the garments worn by mourners.  If you are wearing mourning garments you cannot come to the banquet.  Isaiah hopes for the day when those garments will be changed.  But they can only be changed by God.  He longs for a future when death itself will be destroyed and humans will be able to exchange mourning garments for wedding garments – and enter the presence of God, and share with God in the heavenly banquet – the wedding feast of the lamb.

And then in the Gospel story of the wedding banquet, there is that enigmatic and harsh ending, where the king notices that a guest in not wearing the right clothes – the wedding garment – and the man is thrown out of the feast.

So what do these stories about clothing have to do with us?  We Christians believe that the hope of Isaiah – that one day God would intervene and destroy death – has been realized in Jesus Christ.  When Christ rose from the dead he destroyed the shroud that is cast over all peoples, and swallowed up death forever.  And that is very good news for us who have faith in Christ.  For as St. Paul says in I Corinthians 15, “The trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible – and we will be changed.”

And that I think is at the very heart of what today’s readings are all about.  In order to enter eternal life, in order to share in the feast, the banquet prepared for us by God, we have to be changed.  We have to allow God to change us.  We can’t change ourselves, in our own power: we can only place our trust, place our life, in the hands of Jesus, and let him change us.  We can pass from death to life.  This is fundamentally most graphically experienced in our baptism.  As Paul says in Galatians, “When you were baptized into Christ you were clothed with Christ.”

In some of the earliest descriptions of baptism we read of those being baptized taking off all their clothes, and going down into the water of the river, and then coming out the other side and putting on a pure white robe, as a sign of their putting on Christ.  But baptism is just the beginning.  As Christians we have to, as it were, put on Christ anew every day – and to allow him to change us each day of our lives.

We brothers wear a habit.  If you’ve ever been to a clothing ceremony, you will know how moving it is to see a man put on the habit for the first time.  The habit for us is a daily reminder that when I put it on, I am putting on Christ.

Perhaps you have something similar which reminds you each day that you have been clothed with Christ, perhaps putting on a cross, or making the sign of the cross.  For many years I used to carry a simple wooden cross in my pocket.  Perhaps you have something to remind you as you begin a new day that you are Christ’s, that you have put on Christ like a garment – and that you go out into the world in Christ’s strength.

What I find most helpful about the image of being clothed by Christ is that it is a constant reminder that I cannot change myself, but I need simply surrender myself to the love of Christ and allow him to change and convert me, day by day.  And that’s hard to do.  We so often prefer to be in the driver’s seat – making lists for self-improvement.  Like Simon Peter at the foot washing, it is so hard to be served by Christ.

That is why what we are doing this morning at this Eucharist is so powerful.  Here, our gracious God calls us to share in this meal – a foretaste of heaven – not because of who we are, or what we’ve done, but because God so loves us that he longs to share this meal with us, and he has clothed each one of us through baptism with the garments of eternal life.

What I have tried to say in this sermon is much better said by the poet George Herbert in his beautiful poem, “Love.”

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I Lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”

Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”

“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down, says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

The bread and wine are ready – Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast.

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10 Comments

  1. Kitty on April 28, 2017 at 09:09

    Thank you.

  2. SusanMarie on April 28, 2017 at 07:36

    Your beautiful sermon speaks to me of transformation here on this earth. Wearing the “right” clothes and/or putting on Christ-like clothes is allowing God to change us. It is dying to the false self, which is the only way to allow God to transform us. We find our True Selves when we put on the clothes of Christ and say no to anything that does not allow God to makes us into the person God designed us to be. Thank you for the reminder.

  3. Fred Adams on December 5, 2016 at 02:33

    Oooooh thank you so much for the reminders of “only God can change us”. I pray for the grace to accept that clothing–that change.//That Herbert Poem is even more beautifully expressed in music. Such beauty; such truth. Thanks be to God, and thank you for your inspired words.

  4. Margot Fernandez on November 21, 2016 at 11:56

    There is no heaven. The next life will be so unlike the present earthly life we are all living that it is beyond the ability of the human mind to visualize. God is not the Emperor with his palaces and dungeons, his torturers and executioners and his court of flatterers and bribers. There is no such thing as Old Testament Christianity. Nineteenth Century Christianity is over.

  5. Ed Greene on August 1, 2016 at 11:00

    I notice that responses to the sermon mention the death of spouses and the approach of our own death. So it is with me. I have been wondering about heaven for years, and was sort of agnostic about it all. I took the time to read a scholarly tome by an eminent British theologian — precious little comfort in that! The death of my own spouse and my own failing health have moved me to a new perspective. I am subtly aware of the continuing presence of my husband and I see glimpses of heaven in the wonderful moments of joy that come every day. Already, this life is a banquet and what will be is beyond my imagination! Thank you, Geoffrey, and thank you, God.

    • Christina on November 21, 2016 at 08:46

      My husband died seven years ago. Not in a mournful way, but John is always in my life. We had fifty good years married. What a gift that was – yes some halcyon days, some not so, but much blessed. // I look around the world in which I live and know what a blessing I receive every day. I can go to bed at night and waken in the morning and discover that nothing much has changed. Not so for millions on this earth. Thanks be to God.

  6. Sister Priscilla Jean Wright. CT on October 17, 2014 at 20:23

    What a lovely thoughtful sermon! It was especially appropriate to hear it after having read the news of the death of Bishop Shaw! He will be greatly missed not only by his brothers, but by the church at large .

  7. Ruth West on October 17, 2014 at 18:42

    Thank you, Br. Geoffrey, for this good homily.
    My journey on this earth will come to an end in the not-so-distant future. I look forward to seeing my precious Lord and Savior. The thought of sitting down at the table with Him and all the saints thrills my soul. Even today “He prepares a table before me…and He anoints my head with oil. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Praise His Name!

  8. Annette Foisie OSL on October 17, 2014 at 14:00

    My beloved husband Lou just died August 21, 2014,having suffered eight full strokes. He knew his life was coming to an end; he was accepting and peaceful, and we prayed together, month after month, week after week, day after day. At last he took no further food or drink, and we were holding hands as he drew his last breath, and then not another. We both knew that the Lord would greet him with
    a welcome full of love. Thanks be to God.

  9. Mary Halverson Waldo on October 21, 2011 at 18:24

    The Isaiah scripture and the psalm were read at my mother’s funeral recently, and your commentary, on the rich metaphors of feast and the garments, has been the most hopeful, inspiring gift that a grieving daughter could recieve. Thank you.

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