‘You see this city? Here God lives among men.
He will make his home among them;
they shall be his people, and he will be their God’ (Apocalypse 21:4)
For the last two weeks I have been speaking about “cooperating with Jesus”, meaning that our common vocation as Christians is to endeavour to follow the directions and commands Jesus gives us in whatever we do. But at certain points in life, perhaps after a bereavement or when we experience severe difficulties, a few simple, yet niggling, questions may come to cast doubts on our commitments; “Why am I doing this?”, “Why should I cooperate with Jesus?”, or more to the point for some, “What am I going to get out of this?” Oftentimes these are legitimate questions and a possible answer to them is provided by our reading from the book of Apocalypse, also called book of Revelation.
The answer to our moments of hesitation lies in the vision described by the Apostle John of the heavenly Jerusalem as the common dwelling place for both God and his people. And this answer sounds like this, “We try to live faithfully the Christian life because we want to get to that heavenly city God promises for those who love him.” And “We daily do our best to cooperate with Jesus, because we are looking for a new heaven and a new earth.”
The word Apocalypse means literally “to uncover”, or “to reveal”, and this is precisely what our reading does in order to dispel our doubts with its poetic description of the heavenly Jerusalem. It is as if a veil is suddenly lifted, and for a few precious instants we catch a glimpse of what lies ahead for us: a safe space, a truly happy place, a reward for our commitments. Behind this veil we find the unimpaired vision of God for everyone who now endeavours to seek him with a true heart.
But in reflection this moment of revelation has also something very powerful to say about our human condition. As when drawing back the curtains on a bright summer morning we are bathed in radiant sunlight, so in our reading as the veil is suddenly lifted we can see ourselves drenched in the brightness of the heavenly Jerusalem; in this light we see ourselves not as earthbound creatures but as inhabitants of that promised country, as pilgrims travelling towards a true homeland. That’s our journey’s end. That’s what we are working for.
Outside these walls people have other aims in life, they work for other things and they have other purposes they want to achieve, and consequently they order their existence towards the attainment of their goals. Likewise, if our ultimate goal is indeed the heavenly city; if our journey is a long trek even beyond the grave – as Jesus shows us in his resurrection; then we should do everything that is within our powers to reach our aim. We should daily amend the way we live; rejecting those things that hold us back – such as greed, envy, and resentments – and little by little grow in faith, in courage, in patience, and in service to others; and so inching our way home.
My (possibly) all-time favourite hymn is called O What Their Joy and Their Glory Must Be, and it sings about that heavenly city; in one verse it lays out a plan for us,
Now, in the meantime, with hearts raised on high,
we for that country must yearn and must sigh,
seeking Jerusalem, dear native land,
through our long exile on Babylon's strand.
May God, the Sovereign of that heavenly city, sustain us with his grace as we journey on. And may Our Blessed Lady, Queen of Heaven, assist our efforts with her prayers. Amen.