Homily: 3rd Sunday of Easter – Cycle C
For many of us, when we were in our most formative years, a certain style of music or perhaps one band in particular, had a profound influence on how we came to understand ourselves, that is, who we are, and how we approach and deal with life. When I was in high school, the alternative rock band Pearl Jam was that band for me. In spite of being a fervent follower of the band, and in spite of the fact that I lived near Chicago, which meant that on each of their tours there was a stop close enough for me to have a chance to go to it, I had never been to a Pearl Jam concert.
A couple of years ago Pearl Jam came to Chicago to play a special concert at Wrigley Field. A few of my friends from high school, who still lived in the Chicago area, called me and invited me to go. I had stopped following Pearl Jam some years before, so I didn’t feel like this was something I had to do, but the chance for a “reunion” of sorts with some of my high school friends was enough for me to agree to go.
Now, I hadn’t been to a rock concert in many years—since before I entered the seminary, really—and so there were a lot of things about this experience that were kind of shocking to me. The most surprising of them all to me was what I observed after the concert started. It was nothing that I hadn’t seen before, but in the light of my “conversion” to follow the Lord and my seminary formation, it was very striking to me.
What struck me was how the people responded when the band came out to play. There was a lot of applause, of course, which was to be expected, but a great majority of people spontaneously thrust their hands into the air and began to scream at the top of their lungs. And what struck me at that moment was the thought: “Oh my, these people are worshiping! They are worshiping these men on stage!”
If you’ve never thought of it before, perhaps now you will, but this motion (thrusting your hands in the air and crying out in the direction of some object or being) is an act of prayer: either adoration (in which we are trying to “throw” our praise towards the object of our prayer) or petition (in which we are trying to “pull” help and favor from the one to whom we are praying). Thus, when I saw this at the concert, I was immediately struck that this act of fervent prayer was being directed to these men playing music on a stage.
Now, my purpose here is not to condemn these people for idol worship (it would be presumptuous of me to accuse them of that); but rather to highlight something about what heaven might be like, in light of our experience of something as inspiring of our passions as a rock concert, and to invite us to imagine how our lives here on earth can draw us into that experience until the day that we experience it fully.
In our second reading today, we read from the revelations given to the apostle John while he was exiled on the Greek island of Patmos. His exile came during a time when the early Church was experiencing increasing persecution from the Roman authorities. These visions were given to John as a way to bolster the faith of Christians in the face of these persecutions. The vision comes in fantastical imagery, which included symbols that Christians would understand, but that their persecutors wouldn’t necessarily understand. The vision we read from today is a vision of the ultimate victory of the Lamb (that is, the Lamb of God, who is Jesus), seated on the throne of heaven (that is, the highest throne of the universe), and who is worshiped by all the beings in heaven and all of the creatures of the universe (that is, everything that exists).
This is a very powerful image! In a time when the active worship of God was part and parcel of people’s daily lives—and when kings and rulers often claimed that their people should worship them (as Caesar did)—an image of the one that you acknowledged as king and God being worshiped by every creature of the universe would be powerful and inspiring.
Unfortunately, however, we seem to have accepted an image of heaven as a place where we lounge around on clouds, listening to gentle music from harps, and where everything is colored in light pastels: in other words, we’ve accepted an image in which heaven is a place in which none of our passions are excited, but rather where everything is artificially sweet and calm. The image presented to us in this reading, however, seems to indicate that heaven is much more like a rock concert than a serenity garden.
And so, what should we take from that? That heaven will be like a rock concert and, if we don’t like rock concerts, then too bad? No, of course not. I think what we can take from this image of heaven, however, is that heaven will be a place in which we are fully alive, passions and all; and that this experience of the fullness of life will be very dynamic, joy-filled, and never-ending. When people leave a concert, they are often full of energy: still screaming, laughing, and often immediately reliving the best moments from it. In other words, it is an experience that stays with them and gives them a fuller sense of living as they return to their daily lives. Imagine that kind of experience never ending and you’ll begin to have an idea of what it means to be in heaven, before the throne of the Lamb, worshiping him for all eternity. It’s like a never-ending Pearl Jam concert. (I just ruined it for most of you, didn’t I?)
Why is this important for us to realize? Well, for starters, perhaps it can give us an awareness of where we have been worshiping false idols in our lives, right? I mean, if we find ourselves responding to things that aren’t God with gestures and acclamations of adoration and praise, then perhaps we need to review where those things are on our list of “most-important things” in our lives. More than that, however, when we realize that heaven won’t be a place in which, it seems, we will be barely alive, but rather a place in which we will be fully alive, we can choose to begin to approach that experience by striving to live as fully-alive as we can in this life, giving God adoration and praise by being the fullest and most alive versions of ourselves, using all of our gifts and talents for our good and the good of everyone around us.
Saint Irenaeus of Lyons wrote in one of his defenses of the Christian faith that “The glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God.” Thus, to give God glory in this life we must be fully alive, or living, so as to move us towards that for which we are alive: to behold God, the Lamb of God on the throne of heaven.
This, my brothers and sisters, is what the Easter season calls us to do: to live fully alive in this world in anticipation of the true fullness of life we will experience in the next: the fullness of life made possible for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord. The temptation is to think that the Lord has abandoned us, having gone back to heaven; and to respond, like the apostles did, going back out into the boat without Jesus, just trying to make something of our lives. The joy of Easter reminds us that it is for God that we live and so our lives must always move in response to God; and when they do, like when Jesus intervened for the apostles, they will be abundantly fruitful.
Let us, then, my brothers and sisters, commit ourselves to the proper worship of God: the full living of our lives for him in this world in anticipation of the fullness of life that we hope to enjoy in his presence in heaven; a glimpse of which we receive when we re-present to him this perfect sacrifice of thanksgiving: the Lamb of God who has taken away our sins and who now sits on the throne in heaven to rule for all eternity. Come, now, let us adore him.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – April 9th & 10th, 2016