Worship: Paradise found

Earthly actions and interactions can awaken heaven in us

On a beautiful spring Saturday morning, my wife, Jen, and I took our dog for a run. The final stop was a large, fenced field on the church campus adjacent to our community garden. The sun was shining, the trees were blooming, and the dog was in heaven, chasing the ball again and again. Students from Adamson High School were laughing together as they weeded and watered a bed of newly seeded soil.

Something stirred in me — a kind of this-is-how-it-was-meant-to-be feeling.

Hopefully all of us get a taste of that sometimes — that experience of heaven on earth, moments that give us hope for the future. Beyond politics, bickering and suffering, we can imagine a way to live and work together to make something beautiful.

Acts 1:9 reports that forty days after the resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven. “… As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight … and they were gazing into heaven as he went …”

Can you picture those disciples staring into that blank, blue sky?

The most unusual thing happened after Jesus’ resurrection. He wouldn’t stay all the time, but just appeared here and there, easily crossing back and forth between heaven and earth. Frederick Buechner said that Easter means, “we can never nail him down, not even if the nails we use are real and the thing we nail him to is a cross.”

With the Ascension (celebrated this year on May 25), Jesus seemed gone for good. The word for “cloud” means “a great luminosity.” In a brilliant light, he left. And the disciples must have wondered, “Is he really gone?”

Here’s what’s odd: a cloud always symbolized God’s presence in the Bible. As God led the people toward the Promised Land, he led them with a cloud by day and a fire by night. When the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the temple, the priests couldn’t bear to minister in the cloud-filled room. The glory of the creator of the galaxies was present.

And now?

The manner of Jesus’ ascension means that heaven and earth are very, very close.

Once Jesus was asked, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” He replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

Often we find ourselves waiting for something to happen. If God would just break in, or show us a sign, or do something miraculous, then we will see the kingdom come.

What if the kingdom of heaven is here, among us, within us? What if it was not for one day far off, but for now? What if it’s within grasp, that by our actions and love we can see the kingdom come?

We don’t have to wait, gazing at the sky. Heaven is here and now.


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