In the spirit of the comments from my last post, I’ve got to weigh in here. First, thank you Daniel for putting the Motley Magpie on my radar screen. Nevertheless, I’ve got a bone to pick with a bit of the content.
In its introductory article Peter Berg writes, “…the Supper is Heaven on earth. The Supper is the parousia of our Lord now – just as it shall be – only then with the scales fallen from our eyes. Therefore, the Supper is the apex of the Mass, for Heaven is the consummation of the believer’s life.” And a bit later, “In the Mass, we achieve the hope of all Christians: We go to heaven.”
He gets the proleptic aspect of the Supper, but he’s not quite right, is he? My issue isn’t with the importance or amazing and mysterious reality of the Supper, but with the reinforcing the incorrect popular notion that “Heaven is the consummation of the believer’s life.” We’ve heard this time and time again. It’s the stuff of longing amid suffering: “When I get to heaven,…” It’s in our hymnody: “I am but a stranger here; / Heaven is my home.” Variations on this theme are spoken at funerals: “Bill’s received his reward,” or “Eunice is celebrating at the marriage feast of the lamb.” But these statements and others which suggest that the soul’s resting with Jesus in heaven after bodily death are the terminus of human existence are flatly wrong.
Rev. 6.9-11 speaks of the souls of the murdered-on-account-of-the-Word-of-God ones beneath the incense altar in heaven. They cry out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood from the inhabitants on the earth?” These souls are in heaven with the Lord, yet this is not the picture of the finality of it all. In v. 11 they were told to “rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” They are certainly with the Lord, and they are certainly at rest from the weariness of this sinful age, but the “marriage feast of the lamb” does not happen yet.
Isaiah 65.17ff begins the talk of “new heavens and a new earth.” Isaiah records the words of YHWH who said, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” This is new creation talk. This is the restoration of God’s creation to the way he always intended it to be. This is go back to when “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” But take note that what God pronounced to be “very good” was a set up where human beings inhabited the earth. Isaiah writes more of this in 66.14ff (esp. 66.22). In 11.1ff he writes more of this restored creation.
But Isaiah wasn’t the only one to pick up on this. St. Peter reminds us in 2 Pet. 3.13 that “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
Pick Revelation up again at chapter 21. It’s…wait for it…a new heaven and a new earth. God destroyed the earth, and then he made it again. And in v.3 the “dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” And in Rev. 22 things look an awful lot like a garden, don’t they? A very particular garden…
And of course, who can discount–sing it with me: “I know that my Re-ee-deem-er-er lives.” That’s right, Job 19.25-27. Where’s the Redeemer gonna stand at the last? Say it with me! “UPON THE EARTH!” Job’s going to be standing there also, in his flesh, on earth, seeing God with his own eyes.
Heaven is not the consummation of the believer’s life. The apostles don’t talk like this. You don’t hear St. Peter or St. Paul talking about “when we get to heaven.” Jesus doesn’t either. Rather, they use terminology like “this (present) age” and “the age to come.” They talk about “the end of the age” and “the coming age.” Heaven isn’t the end. There’s more. It’s called bodily resurrection. Christ’s resurrection was first, and we shall follow him in one like his: rising bodily and never again to die.
So since we take Scripture seriously, let us irradicate the “when I get to heaven” talk. Let’s not lazily cave to popular piety. Let’s stand squarely on the Word of God and confess (“same-say”) what God in His Word has given us to confess.