Sunday, November 18, 2007

Imagine There's a Heaven

Thinking about a dream-like poem from today's scripture text (Isaiah 65:17-25), I remember a monument in Manhattan. It's near the corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West. The peaceful spot is shaped as a teardrop, set among a grove of elm trees. At the intersection of three paths is a mosaic of black and white stones imported from Italy. In the center of the mosaic is a single word: “Imagine.”

Visitors come from around the world. They sit quietly, and often leave behind flowers in the shape of a peace sign. Sometimes they use strawberries rather than flowers. It is called, in fact, the Strawberry Fields memorial – and it is right across the street from the apartment building where musician John Lennon lived.

John Lennon is the one who wrote a song called “Imagine.” It was a defining song for my generation. I grew up among 1960's dreamers, among a generation that tried to imagine a world of unity and peace. We had parents and ministers who heard the first line (“Imagine there’s no heaven”) and stopped listening to the rest of the tune. What they missed is what John Lennon was trying to envision, in his irreverent way. He could imagine a time and place when religious people stopped killing one another, countries gave up on war, and rich and poor were no longer divided.

Ironically this peace song stirred up death threats against the composer. John Lennon was gunned down at forty years old, right across the street from where the Central Park memorial announces the word: “Imagine.”

As for me, I’m not ready to give up on heaven. I want to imagine as faithfully as I can that there is such a place, and I imagine you do, too. It taps into the great hopes of the human race, both of this life and the life to come. If we believe that God is perfectly good, it’s not a far reach to imagine that wherever God dwells is a place of perfect goodness.

Isaiah draws such a picture in chapter 65 of his book. No more weeping, no more crying. Children grow up in safety to a ripe old age. There is a continuity of generations. No more of the disruption of exile: if you build a house, you get to live in it. If you plant a vineyard, you will enjoy its wine. People will be rooted. They will flourish in well-being. This is one of the great pictures of peace in the Hebrew Bible, perhaps the clearest picture after the Garden of Eden.

No more hurt, no more destruction. God’s children live in complete delight, to the delight of their Maker. Can you imagine something like that?

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