Fast asleep in his bed one night, Paul has a vision. This vision is a call for him to leave where he is, and to get up, and to go somewhere new. He has traveled throughout the Asian Near East: Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel, spreading the good news of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. But all these journeys have been focused on the land and the people that Paul was comfortable with. He knew Asia, and he was content to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the comfortable places, the land and the people that he knew and loved.
But this vision, this call that Paul gets in the middle of the night is something different. God’s vision for the church is not just located in Asia. God’s vision of the faithful assembly encompasses the whole world. God is requiring Paul to immediately get up, and go over to Macedonia, that new place; the European continent that has not yet heard of the good news of Jesus Christ. Although Paul was comfortable with where he was, God has a different vision, a wider vision, a new call that will spread the good news of Jesus Christ to foreign and exotic lands. So Paul and his companions packed their bags, and go to Europe, leaving everything they knew and loved behind.
It is with a sad heart that I stand in this pulpit today. This is my last time to worship with you, to break bread with you. These past two years have been a Godly blessing. You have loved me and cared for me as one of your own. But I have received a call. I believe that this call is from God, but that it came by way of my bishop. In a few short days, I too will pack my bags, leaving this place that I know and love, and go to a new and foreign place. That’s right, even I think that Waco, Texas is a new and foreign place.
I am leaving you, the good people of St. Mark’s, and going to a new and different people, those of St. Alban’s in Waco. God has called me to this ministry, and I cannot say no. Although I wish that I could stay with you, where things are comfortable and where I know everybody, I must be going.
So let’s be honest with one another, I will never see some of you again in this earthly life. Now I plan on keeping in touch, but I will depart in the physical sense. I will probably not have another opportunity to eat the same bread and drink the same wine with you. In this physical world, you and I may not share the Holy Eucharist ever again. For I will be with a new people, a different people. But although I am departing your presence, I will never leave your company.
In the wideness of God’s church, in the universality of the love of Jesus Christ, you and I will never be separated. The people of St. Mark’s and the people of St. Alban’s are not two distinct bodies of Christ. No, they are one congregation, though in different physical locations. Together we are worshipping God, spreading the good news, and breaking the bread together. I may not be with you physically, but trust in the Holy Spirit that you and I, and St. Alban’s are one in God. We pray the same prayers, we sing the same songs, we worship the true God.
This oneness, this unity of worship and praise in God will never cease. God’s vision for the wideness of the church stretches beyond all of our imaginable boundaries and borders. The wideness of God’s church does not just stretch from Virginia to Texas. The wideness of God’s church is even bigger than Paul’s Asia and Europe. Indeed, the wideness of God’s church transcends distance, time, and even death. You and I will die. But this death holds no power over us. The grave does not mark the borders of this church. God’s love is so expansive, so radical, so cosmically irresistible that the church of Jesus Christ sings its songs of praise on earth as it is in heaven.
This stupefyingly huge vision of God’s church is witnessed in the book of Revelation. It is a radical vision of the new city of heaven. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that Revelation is about the end of the world. What a short-sighted notion! The book of Revelation is about the beginning of the new world. And this is where Christians get our hope. Our hope is not that we die and we go to some spiritual heaven where we have an eternal outer body experience. The hope of Christianity is that we too will participate in the resurrection of Jesus. Christ has burst the tomb, and has taken up his body again. And though that body was broken and crucified, in the resurrected life, it was healed and made new again. So too with us. We will have our very own Easter. Our graves will cough us up and our bodies will be remade into the beautiful image of God.
And with these new, beautiful, and resurrected bodies we will inhabit the heavenly city. This is the heavenly Jerusalem that comes down from God, so that we will live here on earth as it is in heaven. The hope of Revelation is that this world we live in, replete with pain, suffering, and injustice, will be remade into the heavenly city. But, just as God’s vision for the church is wider than we can imagine, the reconstitution of all things is radically more powerful than we can contemplate. It is not only our bodies, or one city, or even one planet that will be remade at the resurrection. God has a bigger plan that. The entire cosmos will burst forth from its tomb and be resurrected into a new, and better life.
And my friends, that is where I will see you. You, and I, and the whole church spanning time and space will inhabit this city. In our baptism, we were marked with oil on our foreheads. But in the heavenly city, we will have the name of Jesus Christ. In this life, we need the sun, moon, and stars to give us light. But in the heavenly city, you and I will have no need of lamps. The Lamb, Jesus Christ will be the only light that we need. In this church, we close the doors on Sunday afternoons and go home. But the new city of resurrected life will have a temple which will always be open, and there will be no night because Jesus Christ will be the light for day.
Right now, you and I, and St. Alban’s in Waco and the whole global church celebrate the Holy Eucharist to remind ourselves of this great gift we have been given in Jesus Christ. Weekly we return to this table and to this altar rail to receive that sliver of bread and that sip of wine. But in that heavenly city, we will have no need of our Books of Common Prayer or our continual celebration of the Eucharist. Because the One that we remember in the bread and in the wine will be there. There will be no churches, no altars, because we will look at Jesus Christ face to face. It is there that you and I in our resurrected bodies will be one with another, and one with God.
Now do not think that this sermon is just a long farewell address. The resurrection is God’s definitive answer to all of the pain, all of the good-byes, all of the death that haunts our lives. All of our anguish will be made into peace. All of the pain in our lives will be remade into joy. All of the brokeness in this world will be remade into wholeness. All of the farewells in our lives, will be everlasting hellos.
So although I am leaving, I do not despair. We go our different ways, but in the end, we will find ourselves in the same place. Although I depart your present physical company, we are one together in the Lord.Good-bye my friends, I look forward to saying hello.