May 8, 2022; Revelation 7:9, 14b-17; 4th Sunday of Easter
Have you ever wondered what heaven is like? We really don’t know. We really have no clear idea of what God has prepared for us when this life comes to an end. But there are a few passages in the Bible that give us a hint, a glimpse, a partial appreciation of heaven. And one of them is today’s second reading from the Book of Revelation. It begins “I, John, had a vision of a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the lamb, wearing white garments and holding palm branches in their hands.”
The Book of Revelation is rich in imagery, and the white garments are a sign of resurrection. The palm branches represent victory. When we realize that this great multitude is standing before the throne of God, we understand that we are seeing a glimpse of heaven, a glimpse of the saints in glory. And although this view is rather limited, it does tell us two important things about heaven. The first is that the multitude of heaven cannot be counted. We are unable to determine how many people there are in heaven. The scope and depth of the saints in glory cannot be calculated by our intellect or mathematics. The number is dependent only on the mercy and love of God.
The second thing that we realize is that the multitude of heaven is from every nation, race, people, and tongue. That means that although the divisions of our world separate us into nations, races, peoples and languages, those differences are not relevant in heaven. We use the differences between us to divide us, but in heaven all differences are united in the glory of God’s saints. This truth leads us to a challenge. Since we are citizens of heaven and if we hope one day to spend eternity in heaven, then we are called to practice the values of heaven in our life today.
In heaven, there is not one race. There is black and white, red and yellow, and perhaps some other colors that we do not know of yet. Therefore, those who seek heaven must refuse to tolerate the way that racial divisions divide us and oppress members of our society. In heaven, every nation is represented. Therefore, even though in our world there is war between Russia and Ukraine, suspicion between the United States and China, economic differences between the First World and the Third, those who belong to heaven are called to reach across those differences, discover a common humanity, and a pathway to peace. In heaven, there are natural born and immigrants, gay and straight, Democrats and Republicans, the Woke and the MAGA. Therefore, although in this world there are big differences in the way we think and act, those who belong to heaven are constantly seeking common ground.
If heaven is our future, we are called to practice the values of heaven today. We are called to be people who are less angry, less combative, more understanding, and more tolerant. The simple truth is this: one day when we stand before God’s throne, the person for whom we carry the greatest prejudice, the person we like the least, may well be the person who is holding the palm branch next to us.